Feeling indecisive? Try a combination dinner at Los Toltecos and choose your own adventure.
Photo by Hope Nelson.
To be sure, Cinco de Mayo’s origins are often misunderstood in the United States. Often incorrectly referred to as Mexico’s independence day, the fifth of May is actually the anniversary of the Mexican army’s victory against France in 1862. (Mexico’s independence day is actually in September — a date not nearly as well-known in America.)
Regardless, diners are all too eager to commemorate the occasion, and Mexican restaurants of the region stand at the ready to assist. Here are three spots to lift a glass — and some guacamole — this week.
El Paso Mexican Restaurant
6151 Richmond Highway
Just past the Beltway, El Paso (one of four in the locally owned chain) sits unassumingly on Route 1, but it’s a mistake to drive by without stopping in. Step in the front door and leave the highway behind; the restaurant is welcoming and homey from the start.
A helpful hint when visiting El Paso: Come hungry. To say the portions are “generous” is a vast understatement. But in this case, quantity does not negate quality; the food is authentic and fresh, a perfect slice of Mexican comfort food.
Case in point: The burrito selection at El Paso is second to none. Both Jose’s Super Burrito — featuring meat, beans, rice, and veggies — and the Super Vegetarian version (featuring all of the above sans meat) pack a flavor punch, and the size of the meal is as “super” as advertised. Looking for something a little lighter? Give the baja chicken salad a try — or, if you’re after the illusion of a lighter meal without following through, the fajita taco salad is a top pick.
4111 Duke St.
Los Toltecos sits at the gateway to the West End of Alexandria, well up Duke Street past Old Town and close to Cameron Station. By dinnertime, the tiny parking lot is often filled to capacity — always a sign of a popular spot.
So many Mexican restaurants in the area split their menu into Something-Mex – Tex-Mex, say, or Salvadorean and Mexican. But Los Toltecos sticks to its purest knitting and the food is the better for it.
To try several samplings of what Los Toltecos has to offer, consider ordering a combination dinner. Choose from tamales, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and more, and mix and match the fillings to suit your tastes. Be sure to get a taste of the velvety refried beans, which provide a wonderful texture contrast to the rice and tortillas. Wash everything down with a margarita – and take advantage of the evening happy hour prices.
801 King St.
Hang out around Old Town for any length of time and you’re sure to know about Austin Grill. The venerable Tex-Mex restaurant has undergone a facelift — and a menu tweak — in recent years, turning it into more of a “tequila bar” than it had been before. The revamp added a little extra pizzazz to the upstairs dining room, making it a bit more modern while still maintaining a welcoming vibe.
Munch on some hot, crispy chips and ponder your options. The fajitas always hit the spot — whether carnitas, vegetable, or something in between, the final product is a sizzling success. The enchiladas are another gem: Each variety served with an accompanying sauce to match the flavors, the options are plentiful.
Kick back with a Tecate or Corona — or a margarita or mojito — and ring in Cinco de Mayo in style.
Hope Nelson owns and operates the Kitchen Recessionista blog, located at www.kitchenrecessionista.com. Email her any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.