The fragrance of sizzling spiced meats waft through the brightly hued dining room of Azteca Restaurant and Cantina, enticing diners as they sit at cozy tables and pull cornflower-blue napkins into their laps. Helmed by owners James Burick and Mario Orellana, Azteca Restaurant and Cantina titillates taste buds with generous portions of unusual yet authentic Tex-Mex eats. Diners can rev up their eating engines with the tamales de elote filled with creamy sweet corn before moving on to a beef chimichanga, a roundup of beef, beans, guacamole, and cheese in a tortilla big enough to blanket a replica of the Aztec pyramids. A sizzling plate of lobster-tail fajitas comes with chicken and beef, whereas the enchiladas monterrey provide a meat-free option resplendent with cheese and ranchero sauce.
Tampico Mexican Grill’s expert chefs sizzle fresh meats and veggies to forge a variety of traditional dishes, served with homemade salsa. Culinary expeditions or temporary sculptures begin with fresh guacamole, prepared to taste with diner-selected ingredients such as cilantro and jalapeños ($4.99). The pollo Tampico’s marinated grilled chicken breast cozies beneath a melted cheese blanket ($10.99), and breaded and deep-fried chicken or steak pair ably with a single roasted jalapeño and hearty helping of fries in the Milanesa Tampico ($9.99). Five fajita offerings sail sizzling to plates in portions for either solo diners or dynamic duos, with fresh scallops, shrimp, or steak filling a choice of flour or corn tortillas ($10.99+). Midday munchers can fill plates or fanny packs with 1 of 19 lunch specials, including meat-centric and vegetarian options. Several beers and wines wash down meals, while frozen or rocks margaritas quench thirsts in several sizes, including regular ($4.25+), jumbo ($6.99+), and monster ($10.99+).
Perch on high-backed chairs to peruse the exhaustive menu of Latin-American flavors and start with a beefy app such as the taquitos ($8.95) or the Mexican pizza with melted cheese, guacamole, and shredded beef and chicken ($8.95). Vegetarians can advance directly to platanos con crema y frijoles ($6.95), an order of deep-fried sliced plantains sided with sour cream and beans for dipping. For heartier appetites, try an order of fajitas for two. The combo platter includes marinated steak, shrimp, chicken, and pork ribs, served with grilled veggies (tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers) and south-of-the-border toppers (guacamole and ranchera sauce), all for $31.95. For an authentic mouthful of El Salvador, stick your fork into a few pupusas ($1.75 each), cheese-stuffed corn tortillas with a choice of six fillings, served with pickled cabbage and carrots. Diners will also find a variety of burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, and egg-centric entrees.
Samantha's Restaurant melds a variety of Latin American culinary traditions into a single menu rife with fresh seafood, sizzling fajitas, and stuffed poblano peppers. Washingtonian magazine highlighted the masitas de puerco, a traditional Havana dish of bitter orange-marinated pork, as well as the "peppy mariachi soundtrack" that fosters a lively atmosphere. As appetizers of citrus-and-ginger-infused ceviche disappear like a repossessed magic kit, diners can turn their focus to mesquite-grilled fish or a refreshing cocktail from the fully stocked bar.
Following Baja Fresh?s ethos set in 1990 as a healthy take on fast food, never-frozen meats sizzle atop the grill before they're tucked into made-to-order tacos and burritos. Grilled corn and flour tortillas embrace fish, carnitas, chicken, and steak, and smoky queso fundido sidles onto nachos and into burritos. Between bites, chips scoop up salsa made from farm-fresh produce rather than poured out of a can or fabricated in a space-age replicator. A complimentary salsa bar ensures no mouthful goes unspiced, and guests can scoop up their favorites as they await their dine-in, takeout, or catering orders.
The challenge: eat a burrito in 45 minutes or less. But not just any burrito. A burrito that weighs four pounds. A burrito so awe-inspiring it even has a fearsome name: El Toro. One Saturday per month, Pica Taco holds a contest for any brave and hungry customer ready to take on the El Toro burrito challenge. Packed with the challenger’s choice of chicken, beef, or pork, the burrito is so huge, it must be wrapped in multiple full-size tortillas. Anyone who conquers the four-pounder gets their picture on the Wall of Champions, a $15 gift certificate, a champion t-shirt, and souvenir tostada molded in their likeness. And, of course, their burrito is on the house. But the El Torro isn’t the only thing that makes Pica Taco special. It’s also the friendly service and authentic Mexican cuisine created by owner Maria Villalta with recipes and techniques passed down to her from her mother. She also has a knack for remembering the faces and orders of repeat customers, and begins to prepare their favorite orders the moment they walk in. While regulars tend to stick with favorites like chorizo tortas or chicken enchiladas, Maria still tempts them with a changing daily special, which could be mole enchiladas or chicken flautas, depending on the day.