The Samantha’s on the outskirts of Takoma Park at 631 East University, near Piney Branch (as opposed to the newer one right in downtown Wheaton on the corner of Georgia and University) has been a local food critic darling for many years, though it gets less attention lately. We ate there years ago and liked but didn’t love the food, which they bill as “fine Mexican and Latin American cuisine,” all of which is true both collectively and separately.
We went back this weekend and I loved it. One of the specials, enchiladas de puerco, sucked me in, and I sucked it in: spicy chocolate-y mole, succulent pulled pork, the right amount of melted cheese, and a refried beans and rice combo that puts a lot of Tex-Mex places to shame. One of the best enchilada platters I have ever had, including plenty in Texas. Delicious.
Surely my judgment was not at all colored by the pitcher of (pretty good) margaritas we all shared. Others in our group tried the pollo saltado, which was deemed very good and disappeared entirely except for a mound of red onions, so maybe the ingredient balance was off a little bit. Beef fajitas and Gallina India (“country chicken soup”) also passed the taste test, though bones and over-large vegetable chunks made the soup somewhat non-user-friendly.
Drawbacks: with most entrees in the $12 to $20 range it isn’t expensive, but isn’t as great a value as it might once have been — I’m pretty sure prices were lower five to ten years ago, though maybe I am misremembering. It gets pretty loud, especially when you are seated next to a family with a six-month-old (I’m guessing) who screams nonstop for an hour and the parents don’t so much as walk the kid outside for a while. Samantha’s, like most Latino restaurants, is kid-friendly, which can be both blessing and curse depending on your situation. Even aside from that, the place was packed and quite loud. The packed-ness also makes for difficult parking, as the lot is not nearly large enough to accomodate a full house.
Despite all that, I thought the food and service were excellent, well worth a visit.