El Tapatio

A family-run storefront with authentic Guadalajaran specialties.

From June 2006 Cheap Eats

From house-made tortillas to mole-blanketed enchiladas, the Guadalajaran family that runs this restaurant in Bladensburg knows its stuff. This is the real thing, not Tex-Mex, not Salva-Mex, but honest-to-God Mexican food.

The jukebox can be blaring, and servers aren't always fluent in English, but take it as a stamp of authenticity and settle in with the Latinos who gather for the filling and familiar plates.

A can of Tecate arrives with a wedge of lime, and the basket of crisp house-made chips is paired with warm, just-spicy-enough salsa. Chiles rellenos, done up with an airy, eggy batter and a restrained stuffing of cheese–may be the best around. Enchiladas poblanos get a blanket of mole sauce, sweet with chocolate and spicy with chilies. Soft tacos filled with crusty chunks of chicken and pork–plus a slice or two of radish, a sprig of cilantro, and lime for spritzing–are elevated by the house-made tortillas (usually available to go, six for $1). The stupendous torta is a house-baked torpedo roll filled with breaded Milanese-style cutlets of pork or chicken, or, best of all, beer-stewed beef; a big spoonful of beans and a smashed avocado half makes it a substantial meal. Just as memorable are the chilaquiles, a heaping scramble of torn tortillas, crumbly white queso, and your choice of red- or green-chili sauce; a hit of vinegar brings all the flavors together.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.