For now, I'm enjoying Mango's Grill in Laurel, a spot on U.S. 1 that pulls off casual Mexican with a little flair. The flair is in the food. The decor is super plain -- plastic table cloths, ingredients in sight of the tables, view of traffic.
But I was sold when our first plate arrived filled with fried yucca and chicharron. That's little chunks of pork, juicy and flavorful. Mango's tops it off with pickled cabbage, which tasted fresh and bright on a heavy plate. I say "heavy" with love. Fried yucca beats even french fries, and chicharron are delicious. Mrs. HowChow stopped after a few, but I speared pork and yucca until our main courses arrived.
I went for tacos al carbon. Mrs. HowChow went light with chicken tamales. She still dreams of tamales from an LA farmers market, but she said Mango Grill's had good corn flavor -- a strong B+. My steak was my favorite from any of the local Mexican joints. Charred and slightly salty, it came with avocado and went great with the salsa that Mango's serves with warm chips.
So why do I pine for Grace Garden where every dish pops with flavor? It's Mango's rice and beans. They're fine. The beans are firm, red pintos. I ate them all. But the rice was bland. My steak was so much better than anything else on the plate. The tortilla tasted like it came from my fridge. That's not a crime, but why can't there be a Mexican place where everything comes with a zip? I'll take basic food. I'll take a small menu. I'd just love everything as delicious as the cabbage or the horchata.
For future visits, I'm going to lean towards the more unusual items where they're obviously putting a focus. We should have ordered the ceviche that the Mixed Stew blog highlighted. Chrysalis recommended the grilled salmon as well. The high points rank Mango's Grill above La Palapa Too. Maybe at the same level as El Azteca. I need to try a few other places and redo my Mexican rankings.
Click here for my 2009 take on the best Mexican food. Pound for pound, nothing beats R&R Deli's takeout tacos and lamb soup.
Mango's Grill (The restaurant moved south on U.S. 1 in 2012. Look for newer posts.)
Laurel, MD 20707
NEAR: This is on U.S. 1 at Rte 198. From Howard County, you take U.S. 1 south from either Rte 32 or Main Street. Mango's Grove is on the left just before the turnoff from westbound Rte 198.