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.
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.
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.
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.