|The "Steak Tipikal" plate at El Tipikal|
I recommend a U.S. 1 tour for anyone who wants to find their own delicacies.
Like I did, start with the taco trucks like Pupuseria Lorenita in Elkridge. They're serving tacos or big Mexican sandwiches. Then work up to the mobile barbecues. These guys -- often on weekends -- drag half-barrel grills behind a truck and offer up ribs or other meats outside spots like Chesapeake Supply or Mel's Liquors on Rte 175. For about $10, you get meat in a styrofoam clamshell with rice, beans and salsa.
The new arrival is El Tipikal, which opened earlier this year on the northbound lanes of U.S. 1 in Laurel and appears poised to stay. It's a wood and plastic shelter built against a catering truck. They have an enormous grill, and the menu runs from tacos to burritos to steaks with the usual rice, beans and salsa. It's just a stand, but they have lights and a solid construction that make it seem like they plan on seven days a week for a while.
El Tipikal is fun. If Lonely Planet wrote a guide of Howard County, it would send 20ish tourists for pork tacos under the plastic roof. My carnitas taco was delicious and cheap at $2. The salsas and guacamole are fresh and zesty, and I love the touch of fresh tortillas and cut limes. But I have to admit that I sat at the table eating my steak and thinking about R&R Taqueria.
Ribs on the side of the road will always have their char-tinged allure. But R&R is way more than a curiosity. Sure, it's "the taco place in a Shell station." But the menu keeps getting larger, and the food is so delicious that it's hard to drive past R&R to try something new.
|Chicken tacos at R&R|
To date, I haven't been wowed by beans or rice at any of the Mexican places around here, not even the restaurants. White rice and earthy beans are fine, but they're filler. No reason to bump up to a $10 plate when you can focus on two tacos and R&R's lamb soup for half of that.
That soup work be a steal at $5 itself at a restaurant. A rich broth with spices and herbs. Some days, it has chunks of lamb. On our last visit, it was bulked up with chickpeas. This is a kitchen that is cooking with skill. That's a soup that I can't make at home. In the same way that I have never been able to turn out ceviche like what R&R serves in a gas station.
|Ceviche at R&R|
That ceviche comes piled on a tostada. It's a mix of fish and shrimp with a dash of tomatoes, cilantro and vegetables. The citrus has cooked the fish, but it hasn't overpowered the seafood like it often does when I overdo the lime juice. The marinade soaks into the tostada, which takes on the flavor without going entirely limp.
These is a menu full of opportunity. Want regional Mexican? Try a huarache. Want a fresh fruit drink? Get the watermelon agua fresca. When R&R offers a dozen great meals and they all cost less than $10, it's hard to pass it by on a Saturday and to roll the dice at the U.S. 1 flea market. I haven't eaten there since 2008. I'm sure there is something new and delicious.
If you haven't been to R&R (or if you haven't yet reviewed it for the Sun), check out all the posts about R&R Taqueria. I'd love to know what gems you have found along U.S. 1. Any specific finds at a truck, a grill guy, or a restaurant? If you have tried El Tipikal, have you worked down the menu? I see several items that I don't recognize -- garnachas, pacayas, and carne guisada.
Has anyone found exceptional beans and rice at a Mexican place? Maybe they're just meant to be filling, not exceptional. Personally, I'd order tacos over the more-expensive "plates" at all the local places.
approx 10060 North Second Street (U.S. 1 northbound lanes)
Laurel, MD 20723
NEAR: The address is approximate. El Tipikal is on the side of the northbound lanes of U.S. 1. In Laurel, the road splits, and there is a block of apartments or business in between. El Tipikal sits on the west side of U.S. 1. It's north of Bottom of the Bay, but south of the McDonald's where the lanes come together.