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.
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.
The best thing about visiting the "little" versions of other regions is the food. The second-best thing is that the little versions of grown-up animals still look like baby animals. Today’s Groupon muddles the experience with tropical tastes, splashes it with Latin locomotion, and garnishes it with extended metaphors. For $10, you get $25 worth of scrumptious Cuban cuisine and drinks at Little Havana Restaurant y Cantina Cubana, a casual Federal Hill eatery that's been serving authentic cuisine for more than a decade. Little Havana's is open Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.), Friday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at 11 p.m.), and Sundays for brunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.).
The chefs at Mi Viejo Pueblito Restaurant sizzle up dinner and lunch menus packed full of authentic Mexican flavors. At dinnertime, patrons smuggle beef, melted cheese, and fresh guacamole into stomachs via quesadillas ($8.50) and silence stomachs before they begin arguing with the pancreas by dining on fajitas camarones, where grilled shrimp mingles on a hot plate with bell peppers ($13.50). Sink delectable shrimp into a glass of tangy sauce with the Mexican-style shrimp cocktail ($8.50), or stretch jaw muscles in anticipation of the guisados de puerco, stewed pork in green and red sauce ($9.50). Parched noshers crack open cervezas, uncork bottles of wine, or stab open fermented juice boxes brought from home, in accordance with Mi Viejo Pueblito's BYOB policy, and kick back on weekends as live bands belt out jazz tunes.