When a restaurant advertises itself as “The Tac ‘o’ The Town,” it’s easy to write it off as another Americanized take on Mexican food. And when that restaurant has two locations, in Arlington and Del Ray, it makes it even easier to write it off.
But doing so would be a big mistake in the case of Taqueria Poblano. We visited their Arlington location for the first time a year or so ago, on a night when we didn’t feel like waiting for a table to open up at our usual sushi joint. What we found was a pleasant surprise: a flavorful take on tacos and some damn good margaritas.
Since then, I’ve been back on a number of occasions with my father whenever we get a taste for those margaritas. It’s not the healthiest of dinner choices, sure, but the freshly made guacamole is addictive and the meats that they serve up for their tacos and entrees are always spicy and tender.
A sampling from their menu and some photos to go with it after the jump.
Taqueria Poblano is located in the same strip of shops off of Route 29 as Sushi-Zen and Elevation Burger, a surprisingly diverse selection for one location. Take Lee Highway out from Rosslyn past Glebe Road until you come to Harrison Street and you’ll find the Lee-Harrison Shopping Center (it’s not just a clever name). From the parking lot, Taqueria Poblano looks like all of the other storefronts in the center.
But you need just step inside to see what sets it apart from its neighbors. Mustard-yellow and burnt orange walls, a tile-inlaid bar, and colorful tables and chairs give Taqueria Poblano a warm and inviting atmosphere. A list of specials (including marquee items like duck, crab and even lobster in Mexican preparations) that varies by the day can be found just inside the door, and there are two seating areas – though it’s not exactly clear what distinguishes one from the other besides location within the restaurant.
Like its namesake, a particularly versatile and mild green chile, Taqueria Poblano delivers a Mexican flavor that is at once subtle and deep. If you’re looking for nachos drenched in melted cheddar or a burrito swimming in red sauce, you’ll end up disappointed. Instead, you’ll find a focus on charcoal grilling and spice-rubbed meats.
A favorite appetizer, the cebollitas, consists of little more than spring onions brushed with oil and cooked to a light char. The sugars in the onions begin to caramelize as the outer layers become smoky and crisp; it’s unbelievable that such deep flavors can come from such a simple preparation.
Despite the price tag ($5.50), we find ourselves coming back time and again for Taqueria Poblano’s take on guacamole. The menu advertises that it is made fresh daily from avocados, lime juice, chopped tomatoes and onions. An appetizer portion is a sizeable scoop, studded with crisp tortilla chips and topped with just a sprinkling of shredded cheese. With the acidic bite of the lime juice and the occasional chunk of unmashed avocado throughout, we just can’t get enough of it.
Entrees tend toward the predictable, with a focus on a variety of crisp and soft tacos that are sold individually. You can mix and match a few to make a meal, or get one to accompany something heartier. On our most recent visit, the beer-battered mahi mahi in the fish tacos was light and flaky, and I found myself tearing through them in quick succession. Tacos al carbon, a coal-fired plate of pork loin, steak, shrimp or chicken, is the closest thing you’ll find on this menu to a traditional fajita. But each meat has its own unique spice blend, and the flavors are far more complex. Without the sizzling platter to add flair to the experience, the dish really has to speak for itself (and it does).
We’ve never stayed for dessert, but we can certainly attest to the strength and flavor of the margaritas as a refreshing dinner accompaniment. Made with triple sec, tequila and freshly-squeezed lime juice, these are not your typical salsa-chasers. They are at once sour and sweet, and the optional salt rim brings the whole thing together into a drink that can accompany bold flavors or simply stand on its own.
In addition to the Arlington location, Taqueria Poblano has a second store on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray. Both are open throughout the week (Del Ray’s closed on Tuesdays) and they offer a Mexican brunch with some traditional specialties as well as breakfast burritos until 2 PM.
If you’re looking for a laid-back take on Mexican that prides itself on fresh ingredients and more authentic presentations, Taqueria Poblano can be a great choice. With so many authentic offerings around our area, though, it’s really a question of what else a Mexican venue can offer to entice you. For Taqueria Poblano, I’d say that’s an inviting atmosphere and a menu that doesn’t try to be more than it is. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you want in a place like this.