About eight months ago, I went to Costa Del Sol for the first time -- or what I thought was Costa Del Sol. The place was in shambles -- the carpets were dirty and ceiling tiles were hanging from the ceiling, but the food was good. The pupusas were especially good (I've developed a very large appreciation for pupusas over the last couple years) and these were good enough to compete with those of Samantha's.
On my return trip a month later, the restaurant looked completely different. All ceiling tiles were securely in place and the carpet had been cleaned. Another detail I noticed was that the owners had decorated the walls and added a little ambiance. Tables were adorned with tablecloths, candles, and new handmade menus, giving it a nice, family-owned restaurant feel.
It turned out that the restaurant was under new ownership, but the kitchen staff still remained. I was happy to hear this, because in my prior trip, I really enjoyed the food. Bethesda really needs a Mexican/Savadoran place like this, amidst the mediocre burritos and fajitas at Rio Grande Cafe and Austin Grill, where people wait an hour in line -- for what, only God knows. Meanwhile, places like Las Margaritas stay empty. On my last visit, I saw the most occupied tables since I've been there -- five.
In my later trips to Las Margaritas, I branched out beyond the pupusas and tried their entrees, ordering masitas de puerco (my new yardstick for judging Salvadoran restaurants). It's tender pork with a tangy Salvadoran citrus sauce with fresh black beans and rice. It's a yummy, homey dish that's sure to please.
There are several tenderloin tip entrees on the menu as well, with the beef always tender and flavorful. And of course, don't miss the pupusas.
One thing to avoid is a beef taco salad which starts out good, but ends up being a little bland towards the end. Also, watch out for semi-stale tortilla chips. I haven't had a chance to try their standard Tex-Mex fare like burritos, chimichangas and enchiladas, but something tells me that it will be better than what you can get at a place like Rio Grande.
Service at Las Margaritas is always good (although there isn't usually a crowd to cause the waitstaff trouble), but the servers and hosts have always been very hospitable and friendly. Las Margaritas is cheap too. For the two of us, we usually get out for under $40 with a few beers.
So if you're in Bethesda catching a flick or you're just passing through, take a chance and walk a little further to Las Margaritas.
Las Margaritas Bar and Grill
4906 Fairmont Ave
Bethesda, MD 20814
Dress Code: Casual
Smoking: Not Allowed
Closest Metro: Bethesda
Parking: Street parking in Bethesda is a pain in the ass. No valet. If you're lucky you can find a spot on the street or in one of the lots.
Reservations: No need
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Charming and clean. Like a little powder room at somebody's house.