You remember that place you always went to back when you were in college? The one that provided you with most of your off-campus meals? The one all of the locals went to, because they knew best? That's Terrapin Taco House of College Park.
In the mid-1960s, it was a place called the Doghouse, and in the '70s it became part of the Tippy's Taco chain. Jeff Curtis and David Allan bought the business in the '80s and it's been Terrapin Taco ever since, paying homage to the University of Maryland's team mascot. Allan worked at the restaurant as a college student in the '70s, long before he became the owner. As a result, he knows many of his customers well, and some even have nicknames. For example, there's "Nacho Mike," a steam fitter who went to high school with Allan and is known by the staff for the inordinate amounts of hot sauce he can eat. Allan has also watched his generation of students come and go, only to be replaced by whole new waves of college students lining up to eat.
The cooking isn't Tex-Mex, it's more Ameri-Mex, with foods such as quesadilla sticks and a "sunken" burrito smothered in chili. Particularly good are the guacamole, chili con carne and hot sauce. And unless you're really brave, don't ask for the really hot, hot sauce--it's made of pure habenero chilies.
For appetizers, the quesadilla sticks--either chicken or spinach--are made with cheese, onion and tomato, all wrapped in a flour tortilla for $1.10. Other appetizers include nachos with melted cheese and hot peppers ($1.25 each) or with beans ($1.35). The chalupa--an open-faced bean taco--ranges in price from the basic at $1.55 to $2.05 with meat and quacamole. Burritos, either sunken or regular, start at $3.10.
Most of the dinners are very inexpensive. For example, the Mexican snack (one cheese enchilada and one beef enchilada covered with chili, refried beans and rice) is $4.90. The highest priced entree is the Monterey: two cheese enchiladas, one beef enchilada, one meat taco, one chili con queso tostada and one quacamole tostada for $7.75. Almost everything can be ordered vegetarian--just ask. And while Terrapin Taco does not serve alcohol, the $1.35 sodas are enormous.
For dining, you can eat in one of the 40 seats inside or head for the picnic tables, green plastic chairs and cacti out front.
"If you live in College Park and haven't eaten here, there is something wrong with you," says Francie Rose, of Beltsville, a 15-year customer. A more glowing endorsement couldn't be bought. "It is small, consistent, totally effective, no frills. They don't need any because the food is good." And that is exactly what this landmark is all about.
Terrapin Taco House, 8704 Baltimore Blvd., College Park, Md. 20740; call 301-345-8595. Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.