Restaurant Review: Querétaro, in the Village at Waugh Chapel
Oct 21, 2016 09:00AM ● Published by Arden Haley
Hola! Six siblings from Mexico bring new flavors to Waugh Chapel
By Mary Lou Baker | Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
Ste. 110, Gambrills, 410-721-1392
Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted.
Outdoor terrace. Reservations suggested.
Unless you are a regular visitor to the Village at Waugh Chapel, I recommend enlisting the aid of your GPS to find Querétaro in the maze of restaurants and shops in this hub of commerce. And if it’s a Saturday night, follow the sounds of music coming from a band playing in front of the fire pit near your destination. Your reward will be a friendly greeting at Querétaro’s door by one of the six siblings who own this lively eatery, named after their hometown in Mexico.
Gloria, Catalina, Laura, Jorge, Layo, and Jose Landaverde are the sister-brother team who opened their Waugh Chapel location in May of this year, after enjoying several years of success at their popular Mi Casita (“my little house”) near Crofton. It was Laura who welcomed us to Querétaro one evening, when both the outdoor dining terrace and indoor dining room were filled—a restaurateur’s dream. Within minutes of being seated in a cushioned booth, a young server delivered still-warm house-made tortilla chips and the restaurant’s special salsa—each a cut above the ordinary. According to the owners, everything in their restaurants is made on site.
Was it the explosive popularity of Mexican food that has made margaritas such a signature cocktail at south-of-the-border inspired restaurants? Querétaro serves theirs ice-cold in globe-shaped wine glasses, a better beverage than the safer but sweetish red sangria we sampled. Another “safe” bestseller is chocolate milk, a favorite of the younger set joining their parents at nearby tables for a family-style “date night.” Eavesdropping is easy here—with overheard conversational snippets (“You’re the best uncle I ever had…” and “Oh no, I dropped my taco…”) among them. The lilt of conversations in Spanish and the smiling wait staff added to the restaurant’s festive ambiance.
The menu itself is a veritable dictionary of Mexican specialties: tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tamales, chimichangas, are all represented in selections that vary according to their fillings. Mexican food’s appeal is its freshness and simplicity. Its relative quality depends on the kitchen, personally overseen at Querétaro by family members who take pride in the authenticity of the recipes.
Soups, for instance, prove the point. From four choices, we chose Sopa Azteca, a traditional tortilla soup featuring a savory chicken broth garnished with crisp tortilla strips and thickened with sour cream and pieces of avocado. Bravo. Other intriguing soup options were pozole, another traditional combination of hominy, pork, and onions; caldo de pollo, a vegetable-chicken soup served with twin taquitos; and ceviche, seafood “cooked” in lime juice and paired with avocado and pico de gallo—each derived from the family’s recipe collection.
Chicken was the featured filling in the appetizer we enjoyed. Flautas (crisp cigar-shaped delicacies that are the Mexican version of Asian egg rolls), nachos, and quesadillas arrived with side dishes of bright green guacamole and first-rate sour cream. The serving was generous—enough to share but not a candidate for carry-out because it requires immediate consumption. True to authentic Mexican cooking, the use of cheese in Querétaro’s kitchen is sparing, unlike Tex-Mex specialties where sub-par versions often overpower other ingredients. Other differences that distinguish Querétaro’s menu is the use of grilled and marinated meats and seafood (beef, pork, chorizo sausage, shrimp, ham) as savory partners to enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, and tacos.
It was a challenge to choose among nearly 50 listings, but I serendipitously choose Camarones el Patron—medium-sized shrimp flavored with its marinade of Patron tequila, orange juice, and a sauté with garlic onions and peppers. Garnished with slices of citrus, and partnered with a vibrant avocado salad and a small shaped tower of Mexican rice, it was the antithesis of Tex-Mex—and an original creation of Laura and her sisters. Score.
Our waiter recommended a fajita entrée, available with grilled seafood, beef, chicken, shrimp, pork. My dining partner chose beef. The entrée announced itself with a sizzle on a red-hot skillet, accompanied by a receptacle to keep the tortilla wraps warm and garnishes of guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, and pureed beans on the side. Red and green peppers, onions and tomatoes flavored the tender slivers of meat— and made the recipient revise his opinion of Mexican cuisine.
Desserts at Querétaro are divine—all authentic and house made. Its flan, a simple custard drizzled with caramel, was pure and silky; sapodilla, warm puff pastry dusted with cinnamon and sugar, were nestled alongside a generous scoop of rich vanilla ice cream. Other options are fried ice cream and a special sponge cake that the sisters bake themselves.
Service here, by men in black who move so quickly they seem to be skateboarding, is friendly. Their pace depends on how many customers they are taking care of; on our visit, the server was challenged by having both inside and outdoor tables. The décor features a replica of an aqueduct that dominates the landscape in the owners’ hometown; otherwise, simplicity is the word and welcoming is the mood.
So come as you are, bring the family and be prepared to revise any preconceived notions you may have of Mexican food. With a family of foodies who want to share with others the authentic dishes of their hometown, chances are you’ll change your mind.