Wednesday, January 13, 2010

La Frontera Cantina

We were meeting our friend at our beloved Mr. Yogato and needed a place to grab a quick dinner beforehand. We wandered down 17th, passing several bars and a McDonald's, before we settled on La Frontera Cantina. B raised a skeptical eyebrow at me for selecting a place with the word "cantina" in it. As we've mentioned, we haven't had good luck with authentic Mexican food in DC, and B was scarred for life by eating at the Cactus Cantina two nights in a row. Long story...

With fear in our hearts, we entered La Frontera and weren't encouraged when we found the restaurant to be nearly empty. Our fear turned to smiles when our waiter presented our appetizer: one cheese and one meat pupusa served with a side of tangy salsa and marinated cabbage.

Being from LA (times we mentioned being from LA = 1.6 million and counting), the concept of the pupusa is new to us. LA is chock full of authentic Mexican food places but El Salvadorian restaurants aren't as easy to find. In DC, there are pupuserias all over the place. A pupusa is a thick corn cake stuffed with cheese, beans, or meat. You say pupusa, I say yummy.

After the pupusas, we waited a really long time for our entrees. This struck us as odd because there were only two other people in the whole restaurant and they had already eaten! Finally, the waiter placed my cheese enchiladas (exciting, I know) in front of me and I noticed that the cheese on top looked a little congealed. I cut into enchilada numero uno and expected cheese to ooze out. Apparently these enchiladas were not descendants of the ooze family. The cheese inside was almost solid. I'm guessing it had been sitting on the counter for a long time while the cook prepared B's entree.

This is a perfect example of why B asks the waiter for his recommendation. I went with my old standby and got crappy (and cold) enchiladas. B took the waiter's advice and got a really tasty fish special. Game, set, match: B.

The bottom line is: La Frontera isn't bad but it wasn't remarkably good either. I think it's meant to be visited on a sunny summer day when you can lounge on the large patio and drink margaritas. On this cold winter's night, my cold enchiladas left me shivering. Thanks to the Hot Chocolato at Mr. Y for warming me up!

Second Thoughts From B

The menu describes the fish of the day as "a real treat," encouraging you to "ask your waiter." Like so many things in life, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble (and bad enchiladas) by just following instructions. When I asked, I got an enthusiastic endorsement for the snapper and heard a long list of fool-proof ingredients such as butter, garlic, onions, and mushrooms.

My fish was good, but certainly not memorable. Perhaps this is because just about anyone can throw those things in a pan and come out with something passable. What I will remember is the pupusas and the plantains. You could argue that this is not because they were exceptional but because neither are regular parts of my diet. I might even agree with you. But the ironic thing with that argument is that less than a month later, J and I spent a week in Puerto Rico where we consumed enough plantains to last a lifetime.

The bottom line is that like most restaurants in DC that claim to be Mexican or Tex-Mex or something in that genre, La Frontera Cantina is serviceable. I wouldn't ever seek it out, but if we found ourselves there again, there are items on the menu that are pretty good. If you don't believe me, just ask the waiter.
La Frontera Cantina on Urbanspoon


blunoz said...

Being from San Diego, I grew up with Mexican food as a staple and I'm always searching for and frequently being disappointed by Mexican restaurants outside of the southwest. That being said, if you ever venture outside the beltway like to go to the factory outlets in Leesburg or to the Dulles Town Center mall, then I encourage you to try:
- Los Toltecos in a small strip mall just off of Rt. 7 on the north side / across Rt. 7 from Dulles Town Center. Their mole chicken enchiladas are SOOOOO good! (Generally, having mole poblano or some variation thereof on the menu serves as an indicator to me that they MIGHT know a thing or two about Mexican food.)
- Anitas. Now, I know this is a local chain. I had been to the one in Chantilly before and wasn't all that impressed. They opened a new one in Ashburn just off of Ashburn Farms Parkway, and it's really nice. We like them so much we had them cater a big party at our house last summer. If you were headed to the Leesburg outlets, then I'd swing over to Ashburn Farms Parkway on your way home to give this Anitas as try.

Also, I realize Brambleton is pretty out of the way for you two, but there's a new Mexican seafood place that just opened last weekend. I haven't been there yet, but I'm looking forward to giving it a try. It looks like a pretty nice place from their Facebook profile (see

Friend said...

Before you hit the road for Brambleton, I'd love to see B + J do a pupusas tour of DC the way they did with cupcakes. Who's with me?!