El Cachito II brings new life and authentic taste to the local Tex-Mex scene.
If you live in Woodbridge, where El Cachito I has been for the last seven years, you will already be familiar with the restaurant's chalupas, enchiladas, burritos and guacamole. But for the tamale-starved near Falls Church, the new restaurant is cause for celebration.
A true measure of good Tex-Mex cooking is the quality of the tortillas. At El Cachito they rank among the best. The flour tortillas are supple and chewy and strong enough to be wrapped around a variety of fillings. The more coarsely textured corn tortillas really taste like corn.
There are beef and cheese enchiladas as well as a beef-cheese combination, the latter topped with more cheese and chili con carne. The enchiladas and the beef-cheese burrito brought contented smiles from two Texas expatriots at our table.
The beef-cheese chimichangas -- flour tortillas stuffed and fried, egg roll style -- were similarly delicious and topped with heaping tablespoons of sour cream and guacamole. The guacamole appears frequently as a garnish and is excellent.
But wait, there is more. The menu goes beyond tortillas and tamales. There is menudo, the Mexican stew of beef tripe. There are also wonderful empanadas, a Mexican meat pie that can be ordered as either an appetizer or, in a larger version, as a main course. Plus, there is a section featuring steaks and barbecued meats, including baby goat.
From this last section, try the fajitas, which are quite good and fun to eat. You make your own Tex-Mex creation by filling soft flour or corn tortillas with a few strips of the broiled beef and then piling on your choice of colorful toppings, such as pan-fried onions and green peppers, sliced jalapeno peppers, guacamole, shredded lettuce, cheese, rice, beans and sour cream.
Less successful was the Mexican beef barbecue (served only on Friday and Saturday. The flavor of the thinly sliced pieces of beef was overpowered by a potent marinade. The only example of the peppery Mexican sauce, mole, was delicious and appropriately spicy on the juicy pieces of chicken but not as dark and rich as other versions.
With few exceptions, the portions are generous, and there are a couple of very good deals for big appetites. Go straight to No. 19 on the menu and for $8.95 you get all-you-can-eat refills of six dishes with beans and rice and a guacamole salad. A similar all-you-can-eat special is two dollars less Sunday to Thursday.
There are some problems at this three-month-old location. For example, the margaritas were a little weak, and the seasoning in the tacos tasted like it came from a store package. The lacy, batter-fried chili relleno, while mild and not as heavy as some, was also not very interesting. And we found the nacho supreme appetizer, recommended for four at $4.95, to be too small.
As for desserts, try the deep-fried ice cream sopapilla instead of a decent but not exceptional flan with Kahlua. The combination of butter pecan ice cream enclosed in a brittle, fried dough pocket drizzled with honey and dusted with cinnamon is appealing even after a full meal.
How did a Thai beer, Singha, get tacked onto the list of cocktails and soft drinks at a restaurant serving Tex-Mex food? The tie to Thailand is the Bangkok-born manager/hostess, Ubon Ramos, whose effervescent charm would be welcome in any restaurant. She and her Mexican American husband managed El Cachito I, where he has remained.
A word of caution, however: this small, 30-table restaurant can be easily overwhelmed by an even moderately busy Saturday night.
Clearly, more help is needed -- because if the quality is maintained, there will be a stampede of Tex-Mex food fans to El Cachito's door.