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  1. If you enjoy Mexican food, but not Tex-Mex, El Nopalita is a great place to go. It is located in the shopping center on Bel Pre Rd. near Layhill Rd. north of Silver Spring (Aspen Hill) The name comes from the use of the somewhat rare vegetable also known as prickly pear. Appetizers are very good. The chile relleno (my favorite appetizer) is filled with crab meat, shrimp, and served with a creamy salsa fresca. The ceviche is unusually generous and offered on a bed of greens with its lime and chili tang. The quesadillas -- cheese, chicken or beef and grilled veggie, plus a nightly special indulgence of lobster and spinach -- are sliced and starred out on the plate with a small amount of guacamole and sour cream in the center. They are all excellent. I especially enjoyed the camarones al ajillo (sauteed shrimp with garlic, tequila and cilantro) They were not overwhelmed by the garlic, as is too common, or bitter with scorched cloves, but were aromatic and just flavored. I was glad they were served with some bread, since I didn't want to lose any of the sauce. The tamales are true steamed cornmeal packets served in corn husks. The duck with red mole is moist and subtle, while the chicken has a very tasty tomatilla and smoked chipotle cream. It is nice to be able to find really good tamales made properly. But Nopalita's strong point is seafood. While the simply grilled entrees, particularly the beef dishes, can be fairly ordinary, a piece of grilled sea bass topped with sauteed nopalitas and tomatoes was excellent the last time we had it. (Peeled and de-thorned, nopales taste like a cross between bell peppers and green beans, with a little okra and green tomato thrown in.) The Cancun platter, (red snapper, shrimp, clams, mussels and scallops, plus a half-lobster) is superb. The oven cooked rockfish, cooked with cilantro and slices of orange and lime is another good choice. Subtle flavors were not overwhelmed nor was it at all bland. Served piping hot in papiote, when the server cut open the foil the smell of the steam made my mouth water. There are the usual fajitas (carbon, de camaron, or vegetarianas) and soft tacos and enchiladas available, but I go for the seafood. If I have any complaint, it is that the restaurant sometimes seems short-staffed as service is leisurely, even when the dining room is not terribly busy. However, it is friendly, well informed, and everyone seems genuinely interested in making sure you enjoy your meal. Now that we are regulars, and have our favorite server, we are always treated right and the service is first rate.
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