Everybody likes tacos, the fun and customizable Mexican staple. And nowadays, next-generation fillings are competing with the classics. Here are five favorite Mexican restaurants — all in Rockville, Potomac and North Bethesda — that offer twists on tradition.
— Carole Sugarman
With a choice of 13 “tacos nuestros” (our tacos), Taco Bamba — the brainchild of chef and restaurateur Victor Albisu — is the premier place for inventive filling combinations. At the top of the list we’d put “Fauda Fried Chicken,” a flour tortilla filled with za’atar spiced crispy chicken, tehina mango ketchup, yogurt, dill, mint and fresno chili pepper. Equally great is the “Black Pearl” (pictured here), stuffed with crispy grouper, coleslaw, squid ink aioli, avocado, pickled onions and scallions. Also worth reordering is the “Turkish Wrestler,” a roasted cauliflower-based taco topped with labne Caesar dressing, ezme chili sauce, basil and chili threads. The options are unique and unexpected; we’ll be back for more. Rockville location: 1627 Rockville Pike, (301) 822-2334. tacobamba.com
Adventurous eaters and bargain hunters should head to Plaza Oaxaca, which offers a “mix-and-match” lunchtime taco menu from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a choice of three overstuffed tacos, rice, beans, salsa and chips. Among the 17 selections are authentic fillings that don’t appear on many local menus: crispy grasshoppers (chapulines), sliced octopus (pulpo) and grilled cactus (nopales). And yes, we tried all three. Rockville Town Square, 141 Gibbs St. #305, (301) 968-2136. plaza-oaxaca.com
Gringos & Mariachis
Plant-based eaters — and everyone else — will find some great taco options at this hip Mexican restaurant. Even carnivores will enjoy the plant-based crumbled “chorizo” filling with onions, salsa verde and cilantro, as well as the veggie-rich roasted cauliflower taco that comes with corn, Brussels sprouts, avocado salsa and tomatillo-chipotle salsa. Those top-notch corn tortillas can also be stuffed with vegan-friendly fried avocado or roasted vegetables. And for those who include dairy in their dietary regimens, don’t miss the tres leches cake for dessert. Potomac location: 12435 Park Potomac Ave., (301) 339-8855. gringosandmariachis.com
With good-quality ingredients, vibrant seasonings and consistent cooking, this local fast casual chain never disappoints. The signature grilled or blackened fish tacos use mahi mahi as their base, but it’s definitely worth changing things up with the blackened salmon tacos. The crusted flavorful fish is in good company with lightly charred corn, red cabbage and cilantro jalapeño sauce. We’re hooked. North Bethesda location: Wildwood Shopping Center, 10305 Old Georgetown Road, (301) 564-6000. fishtacoonline.com
The Chicken Club taco at California Tortilla — founded in 1995 in Bethesda — is a nice change of pace. Here, the standard club sandwich combo has been tweaked: two soft corn or flour tortillas come laden with grilled chicken, bacon, melted jack cheese, jalapeño ranch sauce, salsa and romaine. Another hybrid worth checking out: the Korean BBQ taco with pork carnitas, melted Jack, Korean BBQ sauce, fajita veggies, crisp slaw, Sriracha and green onion. Cal Tort remains an oldie but goodie. Potomac location: Cabin John Village, 7727 Tuckerman Lane, (301) 765-3600. Rockville location: 199 E. Montgomery Ave., (301) 330-8214. californiatortilla.com