A readily replenished basket of tortilla chips, warm from the kitchen, and a chunky, spicy salsa to sink them into; tacos, burritos, and quesadillas galore; vividly toned decoration set against faux-adobe walls; and margaritas, margaritas, margaritas: El Tio has all the Tex-Mex favorites that make such restaurants popular among diners who want their meal to be a bit of a fiesta. But just because it’s familiar dining doesn’t mean this restaurant doesn’t do something special with it.
That something special comes by way of seafood featured prominently on the menu, a bit of a stranger in the world of chicken-beef-pork taco creations. Diners can have their fill of camarones, or shrimp, with an herb and wine sautéed shrimp appetizer ($7.95), then segue into a meal of seafood-stuffed burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas (and the list goes on). When shrimp hits a sizzling skillet for fajitas, El Tio takes an inventive surf-and-turf approach. Enter the Camarones Brochette, which stuffs jumbo shrimp with cheese and jalapenos, then wraps the whole concoction in bacon. At $19.95, it’s nearly the most expensive item on the menu, only bested only by a Camarones Brochette fajita that includes 10 ounces of rib eye steak at $24.95 and a Parrillada Mexicana mixed meats fajita for two at $42.95.
The fajita option is impressive for the vast selection it offers. Wrapped (and plain) shrimp, a seafood mix, steak (with rib eye available), chicken, pork ribs and chorizo all get the fajita treatment, brought steaming and crackling to the table atop green pepper slices and onion pieces in a skillet, joined by a plate of beans and vegetable-dotted rice, to be wrapped into fresh tortillas with a dollop of guacamole, sour cream, and/or pico de gallo. Adding a veggie-only fajita and a slew of combo options that join complementary meats brings the total to nearly 20 tempting fajita choices.
From the start of the meal, El Tio dishes out classic Tex-Mex dishes. The appetizers selection is full of treats derived from that winning combination of fried tortilla, spiced meats, and melty, stringy, gooey cheese applied with a generous hand. An order of the Sampler Platter ($13.95) brings the all-stars to the table: hunks of steak and cheese clinging to round corn chips for nachos, cheesy chicken-packed quesadilla wedges, taquitos full of savory strands of beef, and extra-crunchy chicken wings.
The sampler gives diners the whole enchilada – proverbially, not literally. But El Tio does have enchilada platters ($9.95 – $14.95) that make clear why the dish has found its way into the popular idiom. The enchiladas have it all: meat-stuffed tortillas are not only drizzled in sauce (for most, a green tomatillo sauce or red chili sauce, depending on the selection), but covered in a massive layer of melted cheese that makes eating these enchiladas part feast and part discovery.
Desserts like the delectable Fried Bananas ($4.95) – in which chunky strawberry sauce and two vanilla ice cream scoops cozy up to sweet banana halves – give a good excuse to order another drink and keep the fiesta going.
El Tio Tex-Mex Grill is located at 7630 Lee Highway, Falls Church. For more information, call 703-204-0233 or visit eltiogrill.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; and Sunday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.