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Cactus Taverna, Springfield - Closed


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Springfield is oft-neglected in the culinary exploration of the DC metro area. Allow me to defend my home turf with the description of this little jewel tucked into the Saratoga shopping center off Rolling Road, near Newington.

From the outside, nothing would indicate that this restaurant is not a typical suburban Tex-Mex place with tacos and fajitas and refried beans all over the menu. But it offers a lot more. There's a smoky little bar off to the side of the entrance, and the dining room is not special insofar as ambiance is concerned -- the two televisions in the dining room with Spanish language shows, at least one of which is a soccer game, kind of set the theme. But as you look around, there are not too many people eating here who are not Hispanic in origin, and that's a very positive sign of what follows.

Yes, they plop salsa and chips on the table as soon as you sit down, but the salsa is freshly made. And yes, there are tacos and tamales on the menu. But hold on, there's more. For appetizers, try the Taquitos Sonora, or the Cocktail de Curiles (black clams marinated in lemon juice, radish, onions and tomatoes). The soups are really good, with Res (best beef soup in Springfield!), Marisco (seafood galore) and my personal fave, Chupe de Camrones (shrimp, corn, egg and cream).

Entrees include the now-standard slow-charbroiled chicken, along with lomo saltado, carne asada, bistec a la limena, lomo fino with mushrooms, and lots of combination platters for the meat-hungry. I had the lomo saltado last weekend and it was truly a good dish, with very tasty pieces of beef in a thick sauce of spices and garlic.

Salmon crusted in pumpkin seeds headlines a seafood menu you're not going to find at a typical Tex-Mex restaurant. They also offer whole pan-fried sea bass and a sauteed red snapper filet.

You can also live on the "side orders' which include a chicken sandwich made with the slow-charbroiled chicken, or a steak and cheese sandwich, or pupusas with 6 or 7 different stuffings, or yuca, or plantains, or "tipico" -- billed as yuca, plantain, tamal, pastelito and refried beans.

Cactus Taverna is not without its occasional flaws, but if you're looking for a not-typical suburban Tex-Mex place in a strip mall in Springfield, this is the place.

I haven't been there on Saturday night, but I hear they offer live music with local bands.

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After two trips to this place, I can only say that it gives new meaning to the "Taco two-step". Not that it causes THAT kind of gastric distress but that it's marginally better than buying Old El Paso at the neighboring Giant and eating it out of the can. Glutinous refried beans covered with neon yellow "cheese" just isn't high on my list of things to eat...it's somewhat on the same order as the "Chinese" restaurant a couple of doors down.

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After two trips to this place, I can only say that it gives new meaning to the "Taco two-step". Not that it causes THAT kind of gastric distress but that it's marginally better than buying Old El Paso at the neighboring Giant and eating it out of the can. Glutinous refried beans covered with neon yellow "cheese" just isn't high on my list of things to eat...it's somewhat on the same order as the "Chinese" restaurant a couple of doors down.

OK, in all honesty, drop me in the middle of the Saratoga shopping center and my first choice would be Saratoga Pizzeria, which has dependable good grub and some passable Greek dishes. I wouldn't eat at the Chinese place at gunpoint. I'm just saying that as far as food in the Springfield area goes, I will gladly walk 2-3 blocks for the lomo saltado and salmon in pumpkin seeds at least weekly.

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Cactus Taverna is now closed, with the signs on the doors indicating that a Chipotle was coming into the space. I'll miss the bar more than the food.

I will say, however, watch this space. A good 10,000 jobs is about to move into the Ft. Belvoir annex across the street, and they will all tire of the Sysco cafeteria in the building....

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Cactus Taverna is now closed, with the signs on the doors indicating that a Chipotle was coming into the space. I'll miss the bar more than the food.

Losing Cactus Taverna was no great loss to Mexican food in the DC metro area...it was like Chef Boy-Ardee meets El Paso food (but the salsa was (mostly) good and freshly made).

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Slight correction from the earlier field report. Cactus Taverna is closed, and has been since about April. Going into its former location is Kanjana Thai, a mom-and-pop Thai place that will be a welcomed addition to Saratoga, especially if it has a liquor license. I will report dutifully when it opens.

Next door, in a tile shop that also closed, is where the new Chipotle is going in. That sign was hung on the wall today.

Watch this space....the rent has gone up in anticipation of the new NGA headquarters being built across Rolling Road, and that could bode well for the food offerings here.

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