With Bethesda’s high concentration of restaurants, choosing a place to eat can be a daunting task. There are a few restaurants that stand above the rest, however, and Gringos & Mariachis on Cordell Avenue is one of them. With its Day of the Dead-themed dining room, kitchen pumping out flavorful tacos, and wide selection of Mexican specialty dishes, don’t be surprised if there’s a long wait at this no-reservations dining spot.
I originally dined at Gringos & Mariachis when it first opened in 2014, and was thoroughly impressed. I remember thinking to myself that the restaurant felt more like something you’d find on DC’s 14th Street corridor rather than in Bethesda, which often gets a bad rap for being dead after 9 PM.
On a recent weeknight, I decided to head back to the Woodmont Triangle neighborhood with some friends and see if the restaurant’s food and vibe were still as good as I remembered. Since they don’t take reservations, we knew we risked having to wait for a table; our fears were confirmed when on our arrival the host informed us that there was no seating available inside. To our surprise, however, they had expanded their seating to include a covered and heated patio which they share with their adjacent sister restaurant Alatri Bros. As luck would have it, there was room there for us.
After perusing the interesting list of cocktails and local beers, I opted for the tasty and refreshing jalapeño-cucumber margarita. Of course, we put in the obligatory order of guacamole which came accompanied by tortilla chips, pico de gallo, and arbol salsa. The guacamole was creamy and delicious, but the chips were what stood out – warm, crispy, and not too salty.
The mouthwatering menu made it hard to choose just one item, so I opted to try one of the many tacos on offer in addition to one of their classic main dishes. For the former, my choice was an order of the pescado a la parilla tacos (made with blackened mahi mahi that night), pico de gallo, cabbage slaw, and tomatillo chipotle. I was happy to see that the tacos came with corn tortillas by default, and that the fish was prepared with a chipotle sauce that gave it a rich smoky flavor.
From the menu’s “Mexican Classics” section, I picked the pistachio chicken; our delighted server signaled that I had made the right choice. The roasted chicken breast is served alongside green beans and Mexican rice, but the star of the dish is the creamy pistachio sauce atop the chicken with just the right amount of crushed pistachios to create the perfect texture. I had never seen pistachios in Mexican cuisine before, but the flavor complemented the rest of the ingredients superbly.
No Mexican dinner is complete without dessert, and no Mexican dessert complete without churros. We put in multiple orders of the fried dough pastries and were not disappointed. The churros had the right amount of crunch on the outside, but were fluffy and light on the inside; the warm chocolate dipping sauce was rich, delicious, and not too sweet.
I am happy to report that the restaurant has not lost its touch since it originally opened and remains a reliable source for high-quality dishes that will satisfy your Mexican food cravings. More good news: they recently opened a second location a few miles north in the Park Potomac development just off I-270.