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.
This was the best damn dish I've eaten in a long time. I know it doesn't look like much from the pathetic photography (please ignore the shadow cast from my hand in in front of the flash) exhibited here, but it was delicious. Saturday afternoon, Amy and I went to Samantha's because Amy had a craving for some pupusas. Who was I to deny her?
Instead of just blindly ordering something new off the menu, I asked our server what he recommended. He immediately pointed me to a dish on the specials menu -- tenderloin tips with rice, cilantro sauce, black beans and tomatoes. It sounded simple, but sometimes the simplest things on the menu end up tasting the best.
Amy ordered 5 pupusas as well, which upon ordering, our server looked at us like we were nuts. "You want 5 pupusas?!" He had to double check, but I informed him that I intended to share them with Amy. In case you've never had pupusas at Samantha's, they're quite large.
So back to the tenderloin tips. The smell of this dish when it was first brought to the table made my mouth water. Bright colors of green, red, and purple from the cilantro sauce, tomatoes and pickled red onions made the dish visibly appealing. The tender steak, grilled on a kabab with peppers, onions and mushrooms, is matched with cilantro and mole sauces, pickled red onions, tomatoes, and black beans giving a robust flavor that I've never quite tasted before. I'd practically finished the dish when Amy exclaimed, "You know for the past 10 minutes you've done nothing but moan over every bite of that dish! Are you planning on talking to me at all during this meal? Oh, and you told me you were going to share these pupusas with me."
Read my other writing about Samantha's.
Saturday for lunch, Amy and I stopped by Bethesda for a quick lunch. We happened by a Salvadoran place called Costa Del Sol. We remembered eating their pupusas at Taste of Bethesda last year and Amy was having a real craving for them. Costa del Sol is just a small restaurant on Fairmont Ave. Decor is very plain and there is pretty much no ambiance -- but honestly, I couldn't give a crap. What did matter is that we ordered some chicharron pupusas (pork and cheese) and chicken tamales and they were outstanding. The filling was spicy which made up for the fact that the marinated cabbage was fairly plain. Overall, I'd say that Costa del Sol's pupusas competed with those of Samantha's which we all know and love. As well, the tamales we excellent and actually were made with large chunks of potatoe. I don't have much else to report about Costa del Sol except that it is extremely reasonable as far as prices go. Both me and Amy had to pupusas and a chicken tamale and we got out of there for less than $12. If your in the area you should definitly stop by. I certainly plan to.
Click here to see where Costa del Sol is located.
Just quick, I wanted to tell everyone that last weekend I went back to Samantha's again and it was even better than the first time I went there. This time, I started with some pupusas and finished with a chicken chimichanga that was probably one of the best I've ever had. The chicken was very tender and fresh. Unlike most other Mexican restaurants, the chimichanga was not deep fried. Instead it was pan fried which I think is one of the reasons it tasted so much better. The Spanish rice it came with was moist and flavorful. I think what made the dish was the refried beans, though. Oh, and the pupusas were excellent. I LOVE their pork pupusas. I ordered a margarita, and it was not as good as the one I remember ordering last time. I think it was made with a mix - you could definitely tell the difference. So for my second drink, I ordered a "Cadillac" margarita which ended up being a lot bigger and a lot better. Service was excellent as well, but we had the same waitress as last time. :) If you guys haven't been to Samantha's, you should go!
More on Samantha's...
First, let me give credit where credit is due. I would not have gone to Samantha's if it were not for two things - Amy suggesting we eat there after reading Tom Seitsema's chat and my reading Tom Sietsema's Fall Dining Guide. If you follow this link, you will see that I even posted to Tom's chat last week and thanked him personally, cause I really loved Samantha's. Can you guess which post was mine??
Samanatha's is located on a small building by the intersection of University Blvd. and Piney Branch Rd. in Silver Spring. We drove over there for lunch a couple of weekends ago because I had a serious craving for some pupusas. The restaurant looks pretty nice on the inside, which you probably wouldn't normally expect from the look of it on the outside. Staff are all in uniform and wearing ties. I imagine the small dining room get's pretty crowded, but that Saturday afternoon, it wasn't even half full. If Samantha's was in Dupont Circle, there would be a constant line out the door.
I have to admit though, Amy and I didn't exactly brank out and try a lot of different food at Samantha's. Mostly we just ordered pupusas. They are $1.50 each, which is an extreme bargain and they're a lot larger than other pupusas I've had. We also ordered the queso fundido to start with. It was not your ordinary queso made of Velveeta and onions. It was actually made of real cheese and peppers, which is nice. Sometimes, though, you just want Velveeta and onions. :) We ordered a couple of each kind of pupusa - chicken, pork, queso, and beef. To say the least, it was more than either Amy or I could eat. I barely finished three.
Since it was lunch time, I only ordered a single margarita just because I wanted to try one. It was made fresh. I don't think they used any mixer to make this margarita unlike most Mexican restaurants around here. (Take a hint Cactus Cantina)
I'm looking forward to going back to Samantha's and trying their other dishes. They had your typical Tex-Mex dishes like you'll find at Rio Grande Cafe and those types of places. I have this feeling though, they will put those places to shame. I especilly want to try their chimichanga.
631 E. University Blvd
Silver Spring, MD 20901
Dress Code: Casual
Reservations: not taken
Parking available on location.