El Tapatio

$$$$ ($14 and under)
El Tapatio photo
James M. Thresher/The Post

Editorial Review

El Tapatio's Authentic Cuisine Comes With Roadhouse Flavor

By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, November 23, 2006

El Tapatio in Bladensburg has long been one of the more approachable Mexican restaurants when compared with its nearby competitors. Recently, the restaurant, which opened in 2001, had a bit of a facelift. A gentle lime green has replaced shades of purple on the walls, white tablecloths have replaced the old red ones (although the new ones sport a plastic covering to help keep them clean) and there is a new, colorful menu, featuring the plaza in the Navarro family's home town.

Embroidered sombreros are still the main decoration, along with Budweiser signs, a cockfight painting and lots of stickers reflecting support for police and firefighters. The menu is in Spanish, with some English translations. Your waitress may not speak English, but at least one English-speaking member of the Navarro family is usually available to help, if needed.

Also new is the El Tapatio store that opened last month a few doors down from the restaurant in the same shopping center, the S & R Center. Ricardo Navarro, son of owners Ruben and Martha, operates the supermarket that features food primarily from Mexico but also from other Latin American countries. It's the third Navarro enterprise in the center; daughter Veronica operates a clothing store that features leather goods.

El Tapatio's authentic cuisine still comes with a roadhouse flavor that attracts mostly a male crowd. All the food is cooked to order, and that means a stop for a couple of tacos can turn into a 20-minute wait. Or, as on a recent visit, the shrimp cocktail (coctel de camarones) -- a pleasant blend of large shrimp in a tomato sauce spiked with bits of avocado, cilantro and onion served in a giant cocktail glass -- arrived warm.

Many of the construction workers who are regulars at El Tapatio prefer the serving bowl portions of soup, either the menudo (beef tripe) or the caldo de camaron (shrimp).

Goat meat tacos are a house specialty, served on white corn tortillas. The stuffed peppers (chiles rellenos) are spicy and filling.

The new menu includes more sophisticated entrees and prices that seem to raise it out of the "dirt-cheap eats" category. But it's still a jewel.