Cantina Mexicana has been a mainstay in Crystal City since 1995 when now owner Gloria Arias decided to take it over. Previously it was named Taco House where she worked in the 1980s for several years. By 1987, current Director of Operations Ernesto Oropeza had been a frequent customer and in 2004 he began working part time. He now handles everything from quality control and logistical operations to inventory and landlord duties. Ernesto was a good fit since he’s from Corpus Christi, Texas and brings a strong knowledge of Tex-Mex to the table (no pun intended).
He also says living in Texas requires you to have a car to get around since municipalities and locations are so far apart. Also, public transit doesn’t come as frequently as in urban areas like Arlington. One of the things he likes most about Arlington County is that the frequency of buses makes it convenient to ride. Add to that Metro, Capital Bikeshare, Car2Go and more – it’s easy to live a car-free lifestyle. In fact, most of the staff uses public transit to get to work. He says patrons used to complain about parking, but these days that’s not the case. Perhaps it’s because Cantina Mexicana is an active Car-Free Diet Partner that promotes transit options with a brochure display in the window. Ernesto says the transportation brochures get refilled often since folks take bike and bus maps as they enter and leave the restaurant.
In 2012, Cantina Mexicana opened a second location in the Columbia Pike neighborhood. Oropeza is quick to mention Columbia Pike is much slower and residential, making for a different dynamic. When asked about traffic, he says there is less traffic along the Pike and he’s pleased with how growth is happening in the area. Due to more residents, he also notices a strong loyalty of regular customers who come in to eat repeatedly. As he mentions this, a shout bursts from a nearby table as a local customer walks in and is recognized by his friends.
The flank steak fajitas are great, but make sure to try the empanadas de yuca. You may find yourself staying for their signature giant-sized margaritas. Learn how to get there car free.
922 S. Walter Reed Dr.
Arlington, VA 22204