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.
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.
Chefs at On The Border sling out a menu of popular southwestern dishes including enchiladas, burritos, and mesquite-grilled fare made from scratch daily with fresh ingredients. Begin a meal with customizable guacamole made fresh at the table using two avocados and choice of tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, onions, and lime juice ($8.99). Dig into a house salad, crowned with corn, black beans, and tortilla strips ($4.69) or the jalapeño-barbecue salmon ($14.99), whose hotness draws inspiration from the fish that swim in active volcanoes. Mesquite-wood-grilled fajitas sizzle delicious secrets at diners with combinations ranging from monterey ranch chicken with bacon, pepper jack cheese, and ranch dressing ($14.99) to barbecue-and-jalapeño-glazed salmon with black beans and vegetables ($14.99). Plates of full-sized or mini tacos burst with simple, robust flavors, such as the brisket tacos ($11.49) or the mesquite-grilled chicken tacos with fried onion rings ($10.99), which arrive with a red chili sauce for dipping or adding zing to boot spurs.
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+).
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.
When Jose and Betty Reyes emigrated from El Salvador to Washington D.C. in the 1980s, they were excited to set down their roots and start a new life. One thing was missing from their new neighborhood, though: the rich flavors of traditional Central American cuisine. Rather than trying to grow a ceviche tree, the couple set out to rectify the problem by opening El Tamarindo. Thirty years later, their eatery still serves time-tested recipes with house-made sauces for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as fresh margaritas and other cocktails. Guests savor bold flavors in traditional Salvadoran pupusas?handmade corn tortillas stuffed with a choice of toppings?or plates of bone-in chicken topped with mole sauce.