Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Yet Another DC Area Mexican Food Post: Orale Taqueria

For the next two weeks I am taking classes at Fort Belvoir which usually is a pain because I have to drive from Arlington to the class. But there is always a silver lining when I go out to that part of Alexandria: the best, the #1 seed, the most authentic, the best selection, simply the greatest taqueria in the DC metro area. As I've posted before, I hold El Charrito Caminante in high regard, but Orale is really my true love when I need a taste of Southern California (don't be confused, it is not Baja style, but it is damn good Mexican/Salvadorean). Orale has possibly the worst location of any business in the region. Not only is it in a run down portion of Route 1 in Alexandria, it is in a run down shopping center with nothing but a Food Lion, Wendy's and uniform store in it. These are the only stores most people are aware of, mostly because they have signage. Orale does not. In fact Orale is nearly invisible from the road, tucked into a breezeway with zero signage. And that's how you know it's good. I really can only credit the food for allowing this place to stay open for the last 2 years. I even finally got the camera on my phone to work (crappily) and snapped a picture of the interior of the place. That pic pretty much shows it all, its a counter where they make your food from scratch right behind the glass, and there are about 8 tables scattered.

Now I do not have any thing resembling a gifted taste bud, a taste for the exquisite, etc., but I know what I like. And I've eaten at probably 30-40 various Mexican/Salvadorean places across the nation. Orale is the only place that I can say is as good as my favorite place in Southern California. They have a huge variety of tortas, tacos and burritos on their menu, along with yuca and pupusas. They have a list of about 8-10 meats you can put in to any of the dishes. These range from carne asada, carnitas and chicken to tripe, head, chorizo and barbacoa. The barbacoa is a clear standout. I know a lot of people like Chipotle (including me to a degree), but Orale's barbacoa blows away Chipotle. It is heaven. The barbacoa looks pretty much pulled pork Memphis style, but it's taste is amazing (and beef). Hints of all kinds of spices to go along with the heartiness. It goes great in the burrito or torta. The carnitas I had today were outstanding as well. And the chorizo? Let's just say I'll stick with San Vicente. I've also tried the carne asada before, finding it delicious as well. But just as goat tacos are El Charrito's specialty, the barbacoa is what I'll be continually going back to Orale for. Tomorrow I'll be trying more of the torta family (after today's taco day).

Seriously, this place is worth the drive for any unique and delicious food seekers willing to take a chance. Granted, it requires a commitment to drive out to the Fort Belvoir area for this, but wow. It is a drive that I have made no questions asked when that craving hits me. I did a search on Chowhound, the self-professed site for those that will hit up burrito trucks at soccer games for the best food or try the dinkiest place in a strip mall, and they have zero mention of this gem. I just realized in the off chance that anyone actually tries driving out to Orale, that they will probably get confused and lost and never find it. Here is the address:

8762 Richmond Hwy, Alexandria, 22309

You seriously have to park on the side of the strip mall by the dumpsters, and go down the breezeway to find the place; but well worth it. Trust me. I love it. I'd probably marry it if I could.

This should wrap up my pseudo-food reviews/preachings for now. Unless people want me to start posting reviews of the 15 or so Mexican places I've tried in the area in the quest to find a SoCal worthy place. Or not. Then back to inane stories about going out and getting fratty and hating work.


At 11:03 PM, Blogger violet said...

how awesome. being a californian transplant, you actually got pretty lucky because somehow DC-area has really got good ethnic food karma. including latin cuisines. i actually sort of love the sparse decor inside that place. i will have to try it next time im in alexandria.

if for any reason, you find yourself in fredericksburg, mi pueblo serves great mexican food. not taqueria style. more burrito/bean/rice platters. their cauliflower rellenos are to die for. whatever you order, make sure it's covered in their red sauce. everything is flavoured perfectly. i think they even use lard in their beans.

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Delrayder said...

Have you tried any of the places in Del Ray or Arlandria, such as Los Tios or Taqueria Poblano? I'm just curious. (I haven't eaten at the Salvandoran places in Arlandria.)

Personally, I'm not a huge Mexican fan. It always seems to consist of the same four ingredients rolled or fried. And I still can't remember the difference between a burrito and enchilada. Don't get me started on those gas-producing beans.

Food posts are always fun to read, though. Unless you have better stories about conquering a Latina, I say detail your quest for the perfect tamale, or whatever.

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Marci (aka Baby Banana) said...

I totally used to live right there behind that place. But that shopping center freaked me out, so I never went there!

At 5:45 PM, Blogger The Virginian said...

Delrayder - I've tried Taqueria Poblano and was not impressed. It was highly recommended but I found the fish tacos lacking, and the burritos to be bland. On top of that, it is pricey for what you get. Los Tios I haven't tried yet, although I tried the older Mexican place further down Mt. Vernon and found it to be adequate but not special.

Baby Banana - I totally don't think I'd want to live around there. It seems like every shopping center on that stretch is sketchy. But I can't complain about the food in that area.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Delrayder said...

I agree with your assessments. I've never found Taqueria Poblano to be that special, although a lot of people seem to like it.

I'm very curious to know what you think of Los Tios. Personally, I like the seafood burrito. But keep in mind, I'm not a huge fan of Mexican-type food to begin with. I'm more into Pho King :-)

At 10:19 PM, Blogger Bill said...

I would characterize the barbacoa as shredded beef in the best sloppy-joe sauce you can imagine.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger The Virginian said...

Rayder - It's blasphemy to say you don't love Hispanic food (at least if you're from SoCal). But I'm adding Los Tios to my list of places to try. I'll put an "Urgent" next to Los Tios also.

Bill - I can't tell if your comment is saying it's good or bad. The barbacoa when I last had it was a little soupy, but I still loved the flavor of it. It was probably more appropriate in the burrito or torta than it was in the taco. I've seen it a little drier there before.

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Bill said...

I definitely meant that in a good way.

At 1:10 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Update: After another (third?) visit, I have to say that I think the asada is the star of the meat fillings, with the barbacoa a close second. The al pastor, interestingly, is very similar to the barbacoa. A little hotter, a little more cumin-y, a little less soupy. So far, though, I have to say that it's hard to go wrong. Thank you for turning the masses on to this place.

At 1:36 AM, Blogger Charles P. Everitt said...

I agree with you that Taqueria Poblano is disappointing. The time I went, my burrito was mediocre and the chips were crawling with salt. It's also not that cheap, which makes it a serious waste of time.

I am a big fan of El Charrito, though, so I'm looking forward to checking out Orale. We'll see how it compares. (I should mention that I just got back from a summer in Los Angeles, so I'm desperately in need of decent Mexican food.)


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