El Azteca in Clarksville is a great choice. Inside, the dining room and bar are each outfitted with tile, art and solid, casual tables. This is a real restaurant, not a chain where they're just melting bags of shredded cheese over chips or tortillas.
On the Tex-Mex side, I had a combination taco lunch at El Azteca's bar -- generous helpings of grilled beef in one and al pastor pork in the other for just $9. El Azteca excels because of what it offers on the plate around the meats. Chopped cilantro and large dollops of guacamole on the tacos. Yellow rice and refried beans on the side. A plastic cup of tomatillo salsa. I still love the weekend ceviche special at La Palapa Too, but the rice and beans at El Azteca have just that much more flavor, that much more to separate them from a Chili's or a shopping center chain.
I still haven't tried the Mexican specialities like Chicken Mole and Rainbow Trout A La Mantequilla. I also haven't exhausted the array of HoCo Mexican restaurants. But El Azteca wins my loyalty because everything was delicious -- from the warmed chips to the marinated pork. At dinner, the Tex-Mex runs $12 a person, and the classier Mexican specials run $15-16. That's a fair price for good food served in a nice place.
For Mexican groceries -- including a butcher and corn tortillas made on site -- you have to visit Lily's Mexican Market. Or click for a working list of the best restaurants in Howard County.
12210 Clarksville Pike (Rte 108)
Clarksville, MD 21029
NEAR: This is on Rte 108 just north of Rte 32. From northern Columbia, take Rte 108 south until you pass the River Hill Garden Center on the left. Then watch for El Azteca on the right. From southern Columbia or Rte 29, take Rte 32 West and exit on Rte 108 north. El Azteca is on the left after the Jiffy Lube.