La Sirenita

The Mexican cooking at this Riverdale diner is the real deal.

From June 2006 Cheap Eats

Mexican food, prepared by Mexicans–it's a relatively novel notion here. For a long time, much of what we've been eating has been Salvadoran cooking masquerading as Mexican. Thanks to the influx of Mexicans over the past few years into Riverdale and Bladensburg, we're now getting our first tastes of authentic Mexican cooking. Southern Californians may sniff at the results, but it's a promising development.

La Sirenita is the best and most versatile of these places, a sort of roadside diner where the jukebox booms out Latin hits and the crowd of construction workers unwinds after a long day. There are terrific tacos (pebbly corn tortillas hinting of lime and bulging with any of nine kinds of meat, including excellent chorizo, lengua, barbacoa, and salty beef); gargantuan meals-in-a-bowl (the spicy seafood soup is teeming with shellfish, the red-tinged posole is fiery and filling); a roast quail with salsa verde; and a simple and satisfying shrimp with peppers and onions. Wash it down with a pitcher of melon, a cantaloupe drink, or horchata, an almond milk spiced with cinnamon and sugar.

You can end your meal with flan, although the sheet-pan version is nothing special, or a large cocktail glass of strawberries topped with a sweetened cream, which is. The staff's grasp of English is tenuous, so if your Spanish is lacking, articulate clearly and smile sweetly.

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.