Friday, June 25, 2010

Mango's Grill in Laurel

I want a Mexican restaurant with the uncompromising spirit of Grace Garden.

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.

Mango's Grill has prices so low that many other reviews compare them to Chipotle and Don Pablo's.  Those chains are no competition even though Mango's lunch specials start at $7, and you can eat dinner for less than $10.  Frankly, I don't think you'll actually stay that low.  If nothing else, you want an appetizer because they're interesting -- either that yucca, the tamales, or the pupusas that I have my eye on for our next visit.  And then there is horchata, a delicious Mexican soft drink.  And desserts.

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.)
600 Washington Boulevard
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.

Mango's Grill on Urbanspoon


Wildkitty said...

If you like Mango Grill you have to Try Irene's. It's right next door in the old Kenny Rogers Roasters building. Their food is delicious! A little further down Rt 1 just as you get into Beltsville is Gringada Mexican Restaurant. They are awesome too.

Thomas said...

A few thoughts....I very much agree with your assessment in that you should focus on the more unusual items on the menu and particularly anything they have on special. I love what they do with quail and I love even more their seafood fajitas -- lobster, scallops and shrimp. Perfect! Their margarita's are pretty good, too. If you become even a semi-regular, they do remember you. I love that it is an open kitchen.

The place is clearly better than La Palapa (I just tried them for the first time recently) -- which I think has a heavy hand and an often dumbed down americanized menu. Thanks for the Azteca tip, I have not been there yet.

As for comparisons to Irene's and Gringada -- I like both of those places, too. Irene's pupusa's can be quite good and I am glad to see that space become something far more interesting than what it used to be (a Kenny roger's Chicken place). It's been 5-6 years since I have been to Gringada's, so I can't really comment too much, but I found their food also a bit wanting and the space a little confining, but maybe it is time to give it a whirl once more.

Clayton said...

Doesn't Mango's also bill itself as a Salvadoran place? It did when some friends and I ate there last year, and I should go back soon. I can't remember the brand name, but watch out for their Salvadoran beer. It's good, but it comes in 32-ounce bottles!

(Speaking of other Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants: We just tried Tampico Grill in Laurel, further up US 1 from Mango's, and thought it was very good.)

Anonymous said...

If you get a chance, La Palapa 3 in Burtonsville/Silver Spring -- near Briggs Chaney Rd.-- might be worth a try. I know that all the La Palapas are affiliated but there are slight nuances in the dishes. There are menu items offered at 2 and 3 that are not on the menu of the La Palapa in Ellicott City and we've discovered differences between 2 and 3 in ingredients and serving sizes of items.

davidc said...

i tried the ceviche the one time i've been there. it was quite tasty and loaded with seafood. i've been meaning to go back!

Anonymous said...

We've been there quite often as we live in Laurel and really, anything grilled is soo good. Since I hate to choose, I end up getting their chicken, steak and shrimp fajita combo. Hubby usually gets beef or chicken burrito especial, nacho salad, carne asada, lomo saltado (which can be hit or miss). Love their horchata and margaritas. We'll have to give Irene's a try, since we go to Pasta Plus and Mango's fairly often.

chris said...

Hubby and I finally tried out Mango's Grill. It was okay - we are definitely Tampico folks!

Anonymous said...

Has Mango's reopened? They moved down Rt 1 to the India Gate location, according to this Sun story:,0,2985525.story

Anonymous said...

Good news for fans of Mango's.
I just called their number and they answered! She said that they will open this week. Thursday. Yayyy!!!

JBo said...

Just got an email from their owner saying that they're opening TOMORROW (Aug 3) for their normal hours...

Their new address:
Mango's Grill
14605A Baltimore Ave
Laurel MD 20707

This has become one of my husband & my favorite restaurants. We love the "family business" feel and the food is great.