Dear PoP – Where are the cheap but delicious Mexican options in DC?

“Dear PoP,

What does everyone think of cheap, but delicious, Mexican options in DC? Everyone seems to rave about Lauriol Plaza, but to be honest – the long wait for a table just isn’t made any better by the fact that the food is subpar and, while the margaritas are pretty good- they aren’t anything special or unique. I tend to be the only person in DC with this viewpoint. Or am I?”

Well it’s been over two years since we’ve talked about Lauriol Plaza so it’s always fun to reassess. Lauriol Plaza seems to get a similar reaction as when we talked about Pasta Mia – some folks love it and some hate it.

So what do you think about Lauriol Plaza in general – has anyone changed there mind? For those that don’t like it – where do you get your Mexican fix?

112 Comment

  • I like laurel but I usually go during summer lunches on the weekends. There is no line and being on the roof w/ the breeze is nice. If you don’t drink its pretty cheap too. Food is above average, but nothing awesome.

    Now if you throw some margaritas in there it goes from a $20 check for 2 into a $70 check pretty quickly. And they’re margaritas are just okay.

    I like El Sol on 9th just below U St. The food is actually quite good and reasonable. It never seems to be busy so I dont know how long it can survive.

  • mixtec is tasty but pricey. super taco is our new fave.

  • Cactus Cantina up in Cleveland Park is owned by the same company that owns Lauriol Plaza, but, in my opinion, the food is better, the service is better, and the wait isn’t as long.

    If you’re looking for something closer (I’m assuming you’re not in the CP/AU Park area), I know it’s a chain, but Chipotle is awesome.

  • you’re in DC. aim for salvadorean, not mexican.

    el tamarindo is a winner.

  • Seconding the Super Tacos recommendation. It’s the closest I’ve gotten to the Mexican food I ate growing up in So. California. The portions are great for the price too.

  • Lauriol Plaza is overrated — even with out the line. And, there is nothing there worth waiting on line for. Building and space are nice.

    Taqueria DF rocks. Mixtec used to be better, the food is less authentic now than it was. The “Make your own” or Hecha su Propia Taco platter is pretty good. A platter of taco filling and tortillas for about $24 — plenty for 4 people.

    For really good upscale Mexican food, try Jose Andres’ place downtown that went into the spot where Andale used to be (i really miss Andale). I forgot the name…

    • Oyamel. It is called Oyamel. Yum. (But not cheap).

    • lauriol plaza has the best veggie fajitas in town. for what thats worth.

    • Omg, I third the Oyamel rec. It’s not cheap, but it is delicious. One of my favs.

      • Fourth! Phenomenal – and the decor is pretty sweet with all of the butterflies. Oyamel is a tree that mexican monarch butterflies flock to, covering it almost completely (I think I’m correct in that definition, please correct if not). Delish guac made table-side, awesome drinks. Super expensive. Excellent for a special occasion.

  • Lauriol Plaza, the restaurant that everybody loves to hate, which is easy because the building looks like a munitions factory or an airplane hangar or a synagogue and the food is really not very good it is just an assembly line, one scoop of beans, one scoop of rice, some seasoned meat and voila here is your dinner but it doesn’t really matter because after you have had a couple of their nuclear powered margaritas which I bet are spiked with grain alcohol you probably won’t even remember what you ordered and will eat anything even dog food and the blond 20 something chicks just keep getting louder and louder and louder and when you get home you regret it and vow never to go there again. at least that is my experience.

    • Does anyone go to Lauriol Plaza for anything except people watching?
      OK< well their rellenos are not half bad, if you go at lunchtime.

  • I like Oaxaca on 18th St., north of Florida.

    Also like Lauriol Plaza, but mainly just for margaritas and chips and salsa (their homemade chips and salsa are awesome). Rarely get entrees, but for snacks and margaritas at the bar it’s great.

    • Oaxaca is fabulous! Especially if you like good mole, which I do.

    • Bear

      LP’s chips are not homemade. I used to work for a restaurant that used the same supplier as they did for tortilla chips. They are quite tasty, though…

      • They have a chip machine on the floor for all to see – you can all kinds of shit on LPlaza but you can’t say that. Maybe the mix to make the tortillas isn’t homemade but they certainely do cook them on the first floor in the rear of the restaurant.

  • The wife and I are huge mexican fans and we are always on a mission to find a good mexican resturant. We swore off Lauriol our first week living here. We do go to Cactus Cantina quite a bit since it is exactly the same menu as Lauriol and it is more of a family/relaxed atmosphere.

    By far the best mexican/el salvadorian in the area is not in DC… sorry! It is a little place called El Gavilan in East Silver Spring where there a ton of mexican and el salvidorian restaurants. They have live music on Friday and Saturday nights too.

    Oh, and if you have a late night craving after partying in Adams Morgan, El Tamarindo is open until 5 am!!! Awesome food and a great way to keep the buzz going 🙂

  • Lauriol Plaza has a nice space, but but the atmosphere suffers greatly from the over-crowding. The food has never been worth the wait, in my experience. When the margaritas and chips/salsa are the main selling points of your upmarket Mexican eatery, there’s a problem.

    Salvadorian though it may be, El Tamarindo gets my vote as well. Better food, better vibe, and just up the way.

  • I’ll second the votes for El Tamarindo, and throw in one for El Rinconcito (either the original at 11 & M, or El Rinconcito II at 14/Holmead & Park). Both are consistently very, very solid, and for less than $10 you can get enough food for two meals.

    And I have to agree with everyone here who advises staying far, far away from Lauriol. I

  • outside the city, but food trucks in the unique thrift store parking lot at veirs mill and randolph (behind the big flag store).

  • pica taco @ 14th and Florida. Super Taco is good too.

  • Ah, my specialty. If you like me are tired of “Salvadorean/Mexican” food, read on.

    For tacos in DC:
    -Super Tacos on Columbia (recommend the pound of carnitas – comes with a bunch of tortillas and cilantro/onion/lime/salsa)
    -Taqueria Nacional (Yuppie but delicious lunch by the capitol)

    For better tacos:
    Do yourself a favor and get to Taqueria La Placita in Hyattsville. This place is LEGIT. The owner is from Puebla and the tacos taste like it. Authentic pastor. You may even need your spanish to order – I guarantee it will help. They have literally nothing but tacos, though you can buy some mexican corn on the cob at a little stand in the restaurant.

    For more variety try El Tapatio sports bar

    • and here I thought i was the only one who had discovered la placita.

      it is truly the only authentic mexican place I’ve found in the metro area. all these places everyone else has mentioned are far far far from authentic mexican. most are tex mex or salva-mex.

      if you go to la placita, get the al pastor, the carnitas, the tongue and a plate of nopales (cactus).

    • I live about ten minutes from that place and I love it. I need to check out some of the other restaurants in “Little Mexico.”

  • I love Taqueria Distrito Federal. luckily for me, it is a block from my house. Tried the new Alero in CH and it sucked. generic mexican food like what youd expect in a random suburban strip mall but twice the price. there are so many places, at least in this part of the city where you can get so much more for so much less. Want to try Lauriol but I’m afraid ill be dissapointed like I was with Alero.

  • I like Lauriol! I think the margs are delicious, and I appreciate their options, especially in the salad department. Their salsa is smoky and delicious and served slightly warm, which I love. There can be a wait, but if you go on a weekend for lunch, it’s not bad. The view and the space (outside) is totally worth it! I don’t know why people hate it!

    We had bad service once when I went with 2 friends, we all ordered cheese enchiladas, the waiter made a joke that he “better not screw this up” and then we didn’t see him or our food for a long long time til it came out cold. Luckily, we were able to get a free pitcher and fresh food. So I thought they covered for it pretty well.

    I also like Alero, though I know a lot of people don’t care for that so much. The food at the one on Connecticut in Dupont is significantly better, but the patio at the Alero on U Street is way fun.

  • Best Mexican food in the entire area is Alamo restaurant in Riverdale, MD. Located in a strip mall in a Hispanic area, it has a cute atmosphere, reasonable prices, and consistently great food. I am a Mexican food lover, lived in DC for 15+ years, and have tried them all. Alamo is the best, in my opinion, and worth the drive.

    • i love the alamo! good call. as an east coaster, i don’t know jack about what’s authentic, but this places is great.

    • Alamo’s good, but I don’t think it’s worth the drive from DC (IMO). We would go because I used to live close by.

      I’ll second the prices for the food quality and service is always good as the times I’ve been, no one has been there.

      If you’re in the area, definitely check it out.

      • true. i prolly wouldn’t head out there just for the alamo.
        but its very close to Community Forklift, Surf Club, a go-cart track, a big salvation army, a great welding supply shop, and peoples hardware.
        you know… if you like those kind of things. ; )

    • Alamo is good, however they are my nemesis restaurant for towing my car! Actually, I caught the tow guy and he dropped it for like $100. Nice.

      Granted, I wasn’t buying their food at the time, but I was only away from my car for 10 minutes. Their policy for towing non-customers is insane considering the size of their lot. I’ll never go back.

      El Tamarindo forever.

  • Taqueria on Kennedy and 8th. It’s a sleepy little spot in Brightwood. And if you speak spanish you’ll get extra love. The Huevos Rancheros is no joke.

  • Lauriol Plaza is bad. Superbad. As someone who takes Mexican food seriously, I went in with very low expectations, and the food managed to sink sluggishly below even that low bar. It’d be one thing if it was merely inauthentic, but on top of that, it tasted canned and bland, like cafeteria food. I’m honestly baffled that this place manages to do such a hopping trade. Food aside, it’s not even charming. The service is unfriendly, and it’s decorated like a cut-rate steakhouse. The building, as mentioned, looks like it was built on the fly by the Red Army. Even the name is atrocious “Lauriol Plaza” sounds more like a metro station than a restaurant. I wouldn’t eat in a metro station, and I won’t eat at Lauriol Plaza.

    I don’t think I can recommend anything that’s not already been mentioned. Taqueria DF always pleases, even if the horchata is a little supbar. I like Mixtec, but I can’t help but feel that everything’s 20-30% overpriced. I always feel like I’m about to find a mouse in my torta at Super Tacos, but it never stops me coming back.

    • I take mexican food VERY seriously, and beleive Lauriol Plaza is a good place. Not the best, but fun atmosphere, good food, and if you go off peak no wait time. I think the mar y tierra is a fantastic deal, and some of the other more typical items are as good as what I used to eat when I lived in Mexicali (which has some great mexican restuarants btw).

      I will throw a second in there for La Lomita on Capitol Hill, great food!

      • photodork – You can’t take it seriously because you just named two of the worst places for authentic mexican in DC.

        I love la lomita…but that’s straight up salvadoran.

        Trust me, I’ve lived in Albquerque, Tucson and Vegas…neither of the two you mentioned are authentic Mexican.

      • Oh snap, I see what you did! You showed me up! MEXICALI IS IN FREAKIN MEXICO! IT DON’T GET MORE MEXICAN THAN THAT! I mean, I’ve been eating the food that my parents and grandparents cook since I was born, but then again I’m just SERIOUS about Mexican food, and you’re VERY SERIOUS.

        I don’t care if you’ve lived in up in the mountains in Puebla for 100 years, your taste sucks.

  • La Lomita out in Hill East (Pennsylvania and, erm, 13th? SE).

  • Las Placitas on Barracks Row

  • Tortilla Cafe across from Eastern Market. For $10, you can kill yourself in there. It’s run by the guy behind Canales Meats in the Market, so everything is fresh. The menus skews Salvadorean, but the tamales are as big as a baby’s head, wrapped in banana leaves, and a steal at $3. For real Mexican made by Mexicans, you have to head out to Riverdale. Alamo is solid, been there since the 1960s. El Tapatio and La Fondita rate high in the tacqueria department.

    • Second Tortilla Cafe. I always get the chicken nachos or chicken Burrito. One time I got the beef burrito, and it wasn’t as good.

      • 3rd. If you call ahead, you can get in and out in 5 minutes. If you show up and order, you have to stand in line sometimes for twice that time.

        The beef soft tacos are very good. The chicken is hit or miss as it can sometimes be dry.

        • The fajita salad is an obscene pile of meat and greens for like $8. Enough for two. Agreed that the chicken can be dry, but the roasted chicken is always pretty moist. The yucca con chicharrones is a delightful pile of deepfried pig chunks starch.

        • Agreeing with comments above, particularly re: freshness and have to ssay Tortilla Cafe is the spot! Always good food. I was in there on Friday and upon seeing a signed Guy Fieri poster on the wall I spoke with the owner/manager about it and she told me that their place (along with 3 others in the DoC) will by on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” with their episode airing in January.

  • Tacos (authentic): La Placita in Hyattsville for sure

    Sit down inexpensive tex-mex bar/grill: san antonio grill on 12th st. ne. Never over-crowded. Superior to Lauriol Plaza in every respect.

    Upscale fusiony: Oyamel is great for happy hour.

  • What about the elotes asados truck by the panam supermercado?

  • Riverdale has several–Alamo, La Sirenita, and La Placita. Petworth has El Limeno–good, but the jukebox can be too loud. Lauriol, I think, is for drinking and people watching and not eating. It, Cactus Cantina, and most other Mexican places are why I think almost all Mexican restuarants are a consistent 6 out of 10; satisfying, predictable, and edible, but not something to go looking for.

    • every time i’ve gone into el limeno they have the jukebox turned to 11, presumably for the 3 people sitting at the bar. and when my wife and i sit down, they adjust it down to about a 7. and they don’t seem to mind if you ask them to adjust it further.

      that said, their food is cheap, plentiful, and tasty.

      • I want to really like El Limeno, especially since it’s so close and the owner and staff are really sweet, but the food is hit or miss. I would gladly sit next to a blaring jukebox full of sappy love songs en espanol once or twice a week for a good enchilada – sadly you are better off sticking to the Salvadorian fare. I still go, just not very often.

  • How about a recommendation for Chinese take away in or near Petworth. Haven’t tried any yet. The few here look a little scarey with the bullet proof glass.

    • Simon’s – Although I only get delivery I don’t get carryout as it isn’t close to where I live.

      I think Pop had a question about this at one point….. I am pretty sure the majority of people said Simon’s.

  • It comforts me to know that there are this many people out there who are wise to the ridiculousness that is Lauriol Plaza: bad service, worse food.

    My vote for sit-down Mexican would be Cafe Oaxaca, on 18th just a few blocks north of Lauriol. No out-door seating, and it’s pricier, but the food is definitely better, and the bar tenders downstairs are on point with great drinks.

    My vote for great and cheap Mexican would be repeat the oft nominated Super Tacos (1762 Columbia Rd, directly across from Safeway). Their sit-down consists of a few stools and counter-tops (some outside), but the food is amazing as well as amazingly cheap (and they are definitely generous with their portions). The lengua is extremely tasty and soft, and both the cochinita pibil and al pastor are always good bets if you’re a porcophile like me. I could wax on and on, but I will suggest just one more item: if you anywhere close during a weekend morning, stop in to see if they have Honduran baleadas that day – the owner’s mother hand-makes the tortillas for these Honduran version of a breakfast burrito and they are worth it if you can catch them.

  • The woman with the Mexican cart at the weekend latin food thingy in Adams Morgan on Columbia Road is REALLY REALLY good too. Not to be missed. Triangle Park set up. You know what I’m talking about.

  • My favorite in the city is La Plaza, in Eastern Market. Cheap, delicious, and they often give us free tequila shots at the end of a meal.

  • I can’t believe no one has mentioned Guapo’s in Tenleytown. Hands down the best margaritas in the city and their carne asada fajitas are to die for. Also they have a patio so you can enjoy your dinner alfresco.

  • CAFE OAXACA! So so good.

  • Lauriol Plaza is beyond terrible. You have to pay me to go there. The lines are ridiculous; the margaritas suck. The service is atrocious. And the food is bland and served COLD! I don’t understand why anyone goes there.

  • There is no good sit-down Mex or Tex-Mex in the city proper. Lauriol is bland and overpriced (as is Cactus Cantina) and Mixtec serves revolting crap (two of the worst meals ever there). Taqueria DF and Taqueria Naccional on the Hill are good for tacos -if still DC prices. I understand that there are some good places out in Hyattsville (some mentioned above), but the city itself is Mex-poor. Anyone from a border state will tell you a good Mex or Tex-Mex meal is more likely to be found in someone from Texas, Arizona, or California’s kitchen in DC.

    And no, you are not all invited over for enchiladas with home-made gravy – they are all for me. 🙂

  • Burrito Fast is a great takeout place in Mt Pleasant (like Mt. Pleasant and Park/Lamont). Delicious, cheap, and fast. It’s more like what Chipotle tries to be than a sit down place.

    • +1 for Burritos Fast in Mt P.

      It’s not really Mexican, but for burritos, it’s a million times better than Chipotle and never crowded.

  • Let’s put it this way, the picture of Lauriol Plaza made me throw-up in my mouth.

  • The food at Lauriol is terrible and has always been terrible. Even when they were on S st their food was bad. It’s always been about the people watching. Cactus Cantina is the same bad food without the good people watching. It’s almost like they think that salt will cover up the Grade D meat flavor.

    Guapos in Tenlytown has gotten significantly better in the last year or so. They’ve revamped their menu and the food is much better than it was 10-15 years ago. It’s still crappy, loud atmosphere, but the food is good.

    Tortilla Cafe is good for in and out. Not much of a sit down.

  • I’m surprised that Haydee’s hasn’t gotten any love yet. Their fiesta margaritas (margaritas with extra tequila) are delicious and extremely strong, and I enjoy their burritos and fajitas. Their rice and beans can be hit or miss, but like I said, it’s all about the Fiesta margaritas…

    • i love haydee’s! classic divey atmosphere with delicious burritos. the margaritas are pretty poorly put together but they are WAY strong. i had a great time a few weeks back when there was a 7-piece mariachi band overfilling most of the floorspace.

  • Lauriol Plaza has a fond place in the hearts of some from back when it was kind of the northwest boundary of the gaybourhood, but now it’s a strictly Bridge and Circle affair that ropes them in from the burbs because it has parking.

    I forget the name of it but the place on the east side of 14th just north of Thomas Circle is an awesome hole in the wall. Sadly, most of the good Mexican in the area is at nondescript strip mall places out in the same burbs that people come from to eat TGI Fridays food at Lauriol.

  • I find this whole conversation to be an exercise in pomposity.

    There is no such thing as authentic “mexican”. Everything is regional, not only in Mexico, but differs greatly from SoCal, to Vegas, to Phoenix, to Tucson, to Albuqerque, to Oaxaca, to Sonora, to Chihuahua…etc.

    I like the red chili and carne adovada in Albuquerque, the use of multiple types of chilis in Sonora, the seafoods of Veracruz and SoCal…

    You can’t generalize something as regionally specific as Mexico and claim to be “foodies”

    • Being an arbiter of both what’s pompous and who’s a foodie sounds like a hard job — how’s the dental plan?

      Tune in next week when this guy interrupts a thread on pizza to inform us all about the difference between NY and Chicago style.

    • “I find this whole conversation to be an exercise in pomposity.”

      Thanks for the example of pomposity.

      The actual question isn’t about authentic Mexican. It is about good tasting, yet reasonably priced, Mexican-inspired food which as everyone knows includes Tex-Mex and all the other regions you named.

  • El Tamarindo’s mole chicken enchiladas are my favorite in the city. Hands down.

    Super Tacos is good delivery.

    For true “hole in the wall” home-cooked goodness, I love the open air market that takes place on the corner of Columbia and 18th on the weekends from 10-4pm ish. For under $10, you can get 3 delicious street tacos, and a giant fresh agua fresca.

  • taco truck next to the maryland dmv in gaithersburg. freaking awesome.

  • If you want the most authentic Mexican, then I say Casa Oaxaca on 18th. Rosa Mexicana is pretty legit too.
    The other grungy joints people are naming in Silver Spring and Wheaton are good for “comida casera”, or basically home cooking. These joints aren’t necessarily better or more “authentic” than the expensive sit down places. These places are mostly grease pits that pack on the rice and beans and nothing more. But don’t get me wrong, some are very good too. And as an FYI, most of these places aren’t even owned by Mexicans. They’re mostly owned by Bolivians and Salvadoreans who know it’s easier to sell Mexican food than their own cuisine.
    Speaking of Salvadorean food, there used to be an amazing pupuseria on University and Georgia Ave in Wheaton. Not sure if it is still there but wow it was good. You could wipe off a layer of grease from the tables, but the pupusas were darn tasty.

  • DC has no excellent Mexican options, full stop. Taquería DF is the best of the bunch – it’s authentic, but authentic in the sense that it’s what you’d get at a roadside taco place somewhere in impoverished southern Mexico. However, it’s also rather expensive.

    Most honkies in DC don’t seem to understand the difference between Mexican food and Salvadoran food. They’re not the same thing at all. A lot of the places the posters have mentioned are in fact Salvadoran.

    Coming from Chicago, where authentic, delicious, cheap Mexican food is virtually everywhere – DC is a disappointment on this front.

    I need to try the taco van on Columbia by 16th, but I’m only ever in that area on the weekends, and it seems to be closed every time I pass by.

  • It’s not that Lauriol Plaza sucks, it’s just that people like to say it sucks just for the sake of saying it.

  • Take it from me – I am Mexican and Lomita is disgusting!!!!

    funny how all these people from El Salvador thing they are making some good Mexican food – they are not. In Mexico we do not use cheddar for anything!!!! except for Nachos in Northern Mexico. Having said that TDF is good but Mi Tierra on the weekend in Adams Morgan is probably up there – Awesome Tacos de Chile Relleno

  • “It’s not that Lauriol Plaza sucks, it’s just that people like to say it sucks just for the sake of saying it.”

    Agreed. The food is not amazing but it’s pretty good. Certainly not the horror that some people make it out to be.
    Also agree that Cactus Cantina is better, although owned by the same folks.
    Guapos by AU is great. Amazing Tres Leches.
    In terms of price, I can only think of one expensive Mexican place – Rosa Mexicana – which I found to be good but not worth the extra scratch it took to dine there.

    • saf

      Tastes certainly vary – I don’t like any of those, but I love TDF, Mixtec, Oyamel, and a number of the little storefront salva-mex places.

  • I think El Rinconcito (11th and M or Park Road location) is the best Mexican/Salvadorian place in DC. The portions are great, prices cheap. I usually only ever get take out, because there is not much room at the restaurant.

  • I forgot to mention the taco stand in the parking lot weekend flea-market just north of Fenty HQ on Georgia Ave (the old car dealership). Can’t miss them, the booth is draped with the Mexican flag. Good el pastor and chorizo tacos. Again, not as cheap as you might be used to back home, but better than Mexidorian options elsewhere round here.

    • Odentex, I dig the flea market folks on Ga Ave too, but I got a little turned off when last weekend I watched them dump their grease waste down the street sewer.

      • That’s not good at all.

        Also, I have to say again, they are a little pricey for flea market tacos (though very tasty).

  • I always recommend La Libertad especially of TDF. The food there is great and the prices are great too. Its more authentic than most people are used to but if you want a real Salvadoran or Mexican meal this is the place to go. Usually one of the owners is in and they are always super nice to new people and people unfamiliar with the more obscure types of Salvadoran or Mexican food. It may be a hole in the wall but its a place I cant stop going to.

  • I’m too lazy to read if this has already been posted, but check out Cafe Citron in Dupont Circle. It’s not exactly mexican, more South American, but still has amazing food that hit the spot. Best nachos I’ve ever had.

  • El Golfo in Takoma Park, MD

  • I’ve been going to LP for years. It has steadily become more and more ghetto. I feel sorry for the wait staff.

  • Stumbled on this after an experience at LP that reminded me why I don’t go there unless dragged by a group. As others have mentioned Little Mexico in Hyattsville is the top choice for real Mexican (interior) in the DC area. I’ve also found a place that’s pretty decent in Gaithersburg called Sabor Azteca, great enchiladas.

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