Part of the Uncle Julio’s chain of restaurants, which got its start in Dallas in 1986, the Rio Grande Cafe is our favorite Mexican restaurant in the area. They start you off with fresh, light chips that have a hint of lime and a great salsa whose heat doesn’t overwhelm the flavor.
Everything we’ve tried on the menu is good, but my favorite is the Sonora platter, which offers one enchilada (chicken, beef or cheese and onion), one crispy taco (chicken or beef–choose the chicken, the beef is just ground) and one tamale (shredded pork or chicken). If I know I can’t finish the meal, I’ll save the tamale to take home and reheat later.
We’ve taken our 4-year-old daughter there, but only because we finally had to cave in to our craving for the food. While they do have a children’s menu, it’s all Mexican food (quesadilla, enchilada, taco, nachos, fajita), natch, and she’s just not a fan. So we end up feeding her only the chips and swinging by BK afterward (or before, depending on the time of day).
The other reason I wouldn’t classify the restaurant as kid-friendly is the proximity of the tables; my husband could stretch his arm and hit the diner at the next table over. If your kids can sit still and quietly for the duration of your meal, you won’t have a problem. My 6-year-old son can’t, and when he’s with his sister it’s bedlam, so I try not to take them to places where they’ll bother other diners. Rio Grande is one of them; I hardly ever see kids in there, and if there are, they’re usually about 10 years or older.
Despite that, the food is awesome, and so is the service, no matter how crowded they are. If you’re going on a weekend night or on a holiday, be prepared to wait a while; it’s that popular. If the dining room is full, you can always take a seat at the bar, or even eat there if you just can’t wait.
Click here for menus as well as addresses for other locations in NoVa (Fairfax Corner and Arlington).