The Flores family never dreamed that 15 years after they emigrated from Mexico, Maryland state senator Jim Robey would be on hand at their restaurant opening to whack a celebratory piñata. Yet that's exactly how the business started—with an explosion of candy foretelling a boom of happy customers.
Named for the Flores’s hometown of Nayarit, El Nayar was designed as a reflection of the clan’s personality, which they describe as "authentic Mexican, laid-back, and down-to-earth." They’re proud that amid the exposed-brick columns and blue- and red-tiled counter, immigrants can be found enjoying cactus and eggs beside American businessmen talking shop over tacos and quesadillas. It’s this mentality, along with sizzling fajitas and house-made spicy sauce, that has earned the restaurant an award as a Top 10 Mexican Restaurant by the Baltimore Sun.
Also honored with a Healthy Howard award for the dietary excellence of its menu, the BYOB establishment encourages diners to supplement meals with glasses of a favorite red wine, good for the heart, or shots of tequila, good for hand-walking skills and adding into specialty margaritas.
Former commercial airline pilot Rodrigo Albarran, copiloted by his family and team of chefs, flies vibrant Mexican plates across the runway of R&R Taqueria's eight-stool counter. Though the salsa-spangled morsels emerge from a pair of modest eateries situated at an Elkridge Shell station and the White Marsh Mall food court, the dazzling menu garners praise from a bevy of media palates, including that of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and the Washington Post. Critics laud the zingy salsas prepared throughout the day, tender handmade tamales, and pastor beef marinated slowly in a blend of onions, dried chilis, and pineapple. R&R also loads fresh tacos with lamb or beef, then dapples each with onions and sprigs of fresh cilantro, following the culinary traditions of Mexico City and Mexican-cheese support groups alike.
Husband-wife duo Julio and Lily Soto opened Azul 17 to celebrate not only Mexican cuisine, but to also embrace the culture through music, vibrant design, and a selection of more than 100 tequilas made with 100% blue agave. Their chefs all hail from Mexico and bring family recipes to the kitchen?including one chef's grandmother's recipe for black beans. It's ?old world style with updated presentation,? says manager Peter Bonohue. Peter has been in the restaurant business since he could legally work, and to him, Azul 17 has an especially fun atmosphere. ?I love tequila now,? he confessed.
While chefs simmer their signature mole sauce and servers add fresh lime juice to margaritas, guests recline atop white leather banquettes or modern chairs. Eyes dance with murals and shimmering blue-tile mosaics splashed against white walls. Those whites are illuminated with a multicolored neon glow as DJs spin club, house, and Mexican tunes starting at 10 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. On Thursdays at 8 p.m., guests can spice up their tired hokey-pokey routine with salsa lessons.
Three menus, one location. That might be a lot for some restaurants to handle, but not for Alonso's and Loco Hombre. Both welcome guests during lunch and dinner with their own menus?with some overlap?and a third that takes care of hungry dwellers in the bar area. With all those options, It can be hard to make just one dining choice here. Alonso's dinner menu is home to American classics and Tex-Mex flair, with an emphasis on the kitchen's famous burgers and pasta dishes. Then there's Loco Hombre, whose menu adds on a section for anything served in or on a tortilla. The jewels here include a broiled salmon burrito and tacos available with one of eight fillings. But the real action happens at the bar, where drinks are shaken, poured, or blended, be they margaritas or domestic craft beers served in fancy glasses.
Inside the Lexington Market, Mexican Delight’s chef draws on more than 20 years of experience to build a simple menu of fresh entrees, including halal options. Steamed tortillas fold around three kinds of burritos, including a breakfast version with spicy eggs and a queso option with two kinds of cheese. Fajita plates sizzle with hand-cut meat, and diners can bookend their meals with an appetizer of chicken-stuffed jalapeños and deep-fried ice cream sweetened with honey and whipping cream. On Fridays and Saturdays, live musicians play blues, motown, and jazz tunes to entertain guests and help couples chew their meals in perfect rhythm.
Marianella and her brother Marco assert on their site that they “were raised practically in their mother’s Latin American restaurants.” With such a familiarity with the restaurant industry, the siblings opened their own eatery in 2001, dedicating the menu to the cuisines of Chiapas and Puebla, Mexico and incorporating occasional Peruvian recipes. The hearty and affordable selection of beef-filled burritos, sizzling chicken fajitas, and ceviche earned the restaurant a space on CBS Baltimore’s 2011 list of the Best Mexican Food in Baltimore. Yellow walls, brightly colored tablecloths, and framed pictures of the Mexican desert help create a rustic cantina ambience. Local bands meet at the restaurant every weekend to entertain diners with acoustic performances and lectures on basic typewriter maintenance.