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Cactus Cantina “Number 1 Tex Mex Restaurant” in Washington DC by the Washington Post

posted in , at 11:15 AM

You really can find legitimate Tex-Mex in Washington. We ranked the best.

Dishes at Cactus Cantina including, clockwise from bottom left,
salsa, chips, a swirl margarita, enchiladas and the Plato Gordo
mixed grill. Not to be confused with Mexican, Tex-Mex has been
defined as a distinct type of American regional cuisine.
(Deb Lindsey/for The Washington Post)
The scent surrounding Cactus Cantina is the first marker of quality Tex-Mex. It comes from the steam chugging out of the BE&SCO beta model the staff calls “El Machine,” which mass-produces soft, lush flour tortillas.

Cactus Cantina Vice President Jaime Sanchez said his father-in-law, Cuban-born owner Raul Sanchez, and original chef and partner Luis Reyes were determined to get the “border-style” food right when they opened in 1990. They source tortillas for their paper-thin chips from Texas because they can’t replicate the process perfected by their purveyor. According to Jaime Sanchez, they spent 12 years just decoding the salsa. “We were salsa maniacs,” he said. “We tasted everyone’s salsa.”

It shows. Brick-red and specked with bits of blackened tomato skins and chile de arbol seeds, the salsa arrives still warm from the grill. Part of the Tex-Mex experience means filling up on chips and salsa, which I’m happy to do while I watch fresh flour tortillas puff up on the conveyor belt of El Machine.

From the mixed fajitas, the beef is tender and pink in the middle. A soy-and-pineapple marinade makes the skirt steak sing, and a ramekin of clarified butter is a welcome indulgence for the chicken. Sides of charro beans stewed with bacon and tomatoes make me doubly happy — once upon tasting them and hours later when I dig them out of a to-go container in the fridge.

The flat shape of the cheese enchiladas proves the corn tortillas have been properly softened, though the gravy is a little darker and sweeter than I like.

That peccadillo aside, Cactus Cantina is my clear favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in Washington — it makes me feel at home.

Source: The Washington Post

Cactus Cantina
Phone: (202)-686-7222
Email: inquiries@cactuscantina.co
Directions: Find us on the map
Reservations: Reserve online

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