Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mexican Joints

As both a native Los Angeleno and snob (is there really a distinction?), I'm often asked if there are any "real" Mexican restaurants worth trying in our delicious district. While this often prompts a diatribe of how rare it is to find authentic Mexican food anywhere on this side of the border (and especially this coast), I'll spare you the puffed cheek anti-tex mex rage and get to the good stuff. There are some excellent Mexican restaurants in DC (also some awful ones, but in the spirit of positivity I will leave those off...until the end when I just have to rant a little).

In no particular order, my favorite authentic (as possible) Mexican restaurants
in DC proper are:


Ok who are we
kidding? I clearly put this first because it is hands-down my favorite. Chef Jose Andres (full disclosure, he's a Spaniard) puts out a menu of stellar antojitos (Mexican tapas) and individually served tacos made with the tenderest of slow cooked meats. The menu is perfect for my favorite kind of communal dining in which everyone gets to taste and discuss the subtle details of each dish.

Not to be missed: Oyamel Margarita made with top shelf tequila and possibly the best invention of our time; SALT FOAM. What is this wonderous creation you ask? Only the solution to the "what do I do when the salt rim of my margarita glass is gone" conundrum. It is a delicate cloud of salt that rests atop the margarita to be lapped up in a perfect ratio with each sip. You will never want to have a margarita the old fashioned way again.

Details: | 401 7th Street NW |(202) 628-1005 | Metro: Archives or China

Casa Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a college town in Mexico with a cuisine known best for its mole. Now many Mexicans will tell you that no restaurant can make a mole that tastes anywhere near their abuelita's, and I would never dream of arguing the heights of a grandmother's culinary greatness. After having tasted all of Casa Oaxaca's moles and marveled at the complexity of the ingredients, the only logical conclusion is that Casa Oaxaca has an army of Mexican grandmothers in the kitchen every night. Each of the 6 moles are all absolutely to die for!

Not to be missed: Obviously it goes without saying that you need to try a mole, but definitely try the stuffed plantains. Only 3 come with a serving, but it's a delicious addition to any Oaxaceña meal.

Details: | 2106 18th Street NW | (202) 387-2272 | Metro: At the southern end of Adams Morgan, the Dupont Circle Metro's North exit is a 10 minute walk


I think I have to share that I discovered Mixtec when I was interning at a civil rights law firm and a client, who like many had no home or cellular phone, used to get his phone messages there. We used Mixtec as both a message center and meeting place where I happened upon some of my favorite simple Mexican dishes. I know some people might scoff at this choice because the ambiance is less than elegant...and by elegant I mean even mildly aesthetically pleasing, but Mixtec has some damn good food! It's also non-chain restaurant in DC where I've found baja style fish tacos.

Not to be missed: A good old fashioned tort
a made with beans, avocado, delicious carnitas and all the fixins. It is in no way healthy and will make you fart, but yummmmm.

Details: 1792 Columbia Road | (202) 332-1011 | Metro: Woodley Park Adams Morgan

Taqueria Nacional

Taqueria Nacional is my most recent Mexican discovery! Friends of mine who work on or near the Hill recently got me to broaden my horizons and try this delightful tucked away taqueria near Union Station. It's only open for breakfast and lunch, but the flavors are simple and delicious in that special way that can only come from food made that morning from scratch. They also have an impressive daily selection of aguas frescas (literally fresh water, but better described as Mexican juices) that run out quick during the lunch rush.

Not to be missed: Holy Yucca fries! These nuggets of deliciousness dipped in their spicy salsa may bring tears to your eyes. If you've never had yucca, picture a root vegetable similar to a potato with a slightly sweeter flavor. Then imagine its diced up and fried to perfection and try not to pee your pants with anticipation.

Details: | 400 N Capitol St NW | (202) 737-7070 | Metro: Union Station

Taqueria Distrito Federal

Difficult to find and nestled in a less than savory block to walk alone at night, I would never have tried Taqueria DF were it not for some dedicated and insistent fans. They were so right to insist. These are the best tacos in DC and they are dirt cheap! The restaurant itself is a simple to go place with a few tables you can sit at if you don't mind televisions blaring novelas and/or univision announced soccer games. It's all worth it for the tacos.

Not to be missed: Three words, TACOS AL PASTOR If you are a fan of sweet / savory combinations, you will want to make out with this delight. Spit roasted pork meat shaved into a corn tortilla, topped with diced onions, cilantro, and pineapple , yes I said pineapple. It's not weird; it's incredible. I don't even want to begin to list the things I would do for one of these tacos. Really I should count my blessings Taqueria DF only asks that I pay $2.99 for this slice of greatness.

Details: 3463 14th Street and 805 Kennedy St. NW | (202) 276-7331 Metro: Columbia Heights or Petworth

I know what you're going to say. Where is Cactus Cantina? What about Guapos? I like the happy hour at Alero! The poorest of lost souls might even ask has she tried Lauriol Plaza? Shame on you! These places are not in anyway authentic, and more importantly they're not good. Pouring Carlo Rossi pre-made sangria out of a jug (I've seen it happen at Guapos, people!) and serving overly salted poor quality meat slathered in low grade cheese, does not a Mexican restaurant make! Get thee to one of these quality establishments and you might think twice about opting for one of these less than options.

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