As if Wheaton needed another Salvadoran joint. But Rios Taqueria y Pupuseria (2302 Price Ave., but really on Fern), open less than two weeks now in the former Suporn Thai strip mall space, turns out to be a hidden gem. Imagine if they raise their game as they go along, like many restaurants do?
You can tell a lot about a Salvadoran restaurant by the pupusas, and Rios makes a good one: relatively light and fluffy with a minimum of grease (you’ll never completely eliminate grease from a flavorful pupusa), good masa flavor, and a perfect dough-to-filling ratio. Overall well above average, and may challenge Intipuqueno for best in Wheaton. $1.75 apiece, standard for pupusas around here. Also standard, Rios serves pupusas with curtido, a (yellower-than-usual — turmeric?) vinegared cabbage slaw, and a thin, not-spicy tomato salsa; both are fine.
The real value, though, is in the tacos. Two tacos with charred meat (the carne is excellent; they also offer chicken and beef tongue), onion, tomato, lettuce, cilantro, and a sprinkling of cheese, all in good balance, double-wrapped in soft, warm corn tortillas…for $2.50. That’s $2.50 total, not per taco. That would be a decent deal even if the tacos were only okay, but they’re really good! They come with a little cup of sneaky-hot green salsa on the side. Fresh ingredients, well-cooked meat, high quality tortillas. Love it.
The rest of the menu has the usual Salvadoran specialities, with only an occasional nod to Mexican cuisine. Lots of grilled steaks, seafood, fajitas, all in the $8 to $15 range. The tacos may be the craziest value, but I suspect there’s good value elsewhere on the menu too. I look forward to trying more.
There isn’t much decor, though the salmon/red paint is nice enough, and the tables are swathed in red fabric and topped with cute flower arrangements. Might be a cozy space, if it were full, but so far I’ve only seen it empty and that’s decidedly un-cozy. Looks like they may offer a buffet sometimes. Staff seems friendly.
All in all, Rios is a promising restaurant, and if the other food is as good as the tacos and pupusas, they should show up on every Best Cheap Eats list in the area later this year. Assuming they can stay in business long enough.