In a city where Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants open regularly, picking and choosing where to dip into the best salsa or order the most outstanding taco may be a challenge. But you have a solid number of choices where the salsa is fresh, the chips are crunchy, and the burritos and enchiladas are outstanding. Check out these spots, perfect for celebrating Cinco de Mayo!
Oyamel Cocina Mexicana
One of the city’s first shining example of Mexican eats, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana gets its star rating because it’s a José Andrés restaurant. As any foodie knows, Andrés is the primo local chef who owns at least nine local restaurants — some Spanish, some American, and some Mediterranean — but Oyamel has long been a customer and critic favorite. The menu includes popular regional fare that includes freshly made tortillas, braised duck, fried pork belly, shredded braised beef, and many more dishes that may sound more familiar. That said, they also have dishes like fried grasshoppers (ugh) in tacos. The happy hour and regular menu include a spectrum of Mexican beers and tequilas, some heady cocktails, and wines from the US and Europe.
Rosa Mexicano, 575 7th St., NW, Washington, DC
Check out these festive Cinco de Mayo recipes.
One of DC’s newest and most unique Mexican restaurants is this Shaw neighborhood place that is all about Oaxacan food and mezcal. For folks who know nothing about either, this destination will teach them about the joys of 100 different varietal of mezcal, that potent liquor for which Mexico is famous, plus the unique and very traditional dishes from this region of Mexico. You can enjoy one or all of the seven different moles, tortillas made from heirloom corn, numerous salsas, unusual tacos, and a range of other dishes not found in other local eateries. Make reservations! It tends to get both crowded and noisy.
Espita Mezcaleria, 1250 9th St., NW, Washington, DC
A local restaurant group with outlets in the ‘burbs, Texas-based Uncle Julio’s features a more Tex-Mex menu, starring mesquite-grilled fajitas, its signature salsa with chips, assorted taco flavors, enchiladas, and flautas. The menu even features mesquite-grilled salmon and slow-smoked pork ribs with a sweet-savory dry rub. Margaritas and the ice cream with cajeta wrap up a lunch, brunch, or dinner fiesta. Note that the group has several locations in Virginia, two in Maryland, but none in the District.
Uncle Julio’s, 1827 Library St., Reston, VA
A somewhat formal and purely Mexican spot that is dressy-casual, Villa Maya offers a variety of traditional Mexican food that resonates with Mex food lovers. Appetizers include mussels, nachos, chorizo con queso, and yucca con chicarron, a version more Central American than Mexican. The balance of the menu takes you across the border into burrito, chimichanga, fajita, and enchilada land with numerous platters added on. The kitchen puts out a fairly awesome tres leches cake that will send you off singing with joy. Courteous and prompt service make this a very popular destination.
Villa Maya Restaurant, 5532 Norbeck Rd., Rockville, Md
Taco Bamba Taqueria
Founded by super-star chef Victor Albisu, this taqueria is so causal that you could probably drop in wearing pajamas. Here, it’s all about typical tacos, the traditional ones that are filled with goodies such as braised crispy pork, slow-roasted brisket, beef tongue, and spicy goat. These appeal to the Latino patrons who cozy up to the ordering counter. Others prefer some of the chef’s own creations, such as his spin on poutine, with New Orleans fries, cheese, and pork, or the grilled chicken with ancho mayo and chipotle yogurt. Guest chefs come by with monthly contributions, so the house special changes. Tacos not your thing? Chef offers a small category of not-tacos, such as the grilled guacamole or pork tamales. Open for breakfast, too.
Taco Bamba Taqueria, 2190 Pimmit Dr, Falls Church, VA
El Centro, D.F.
Probably more Tex-Mex than pure Mex, this restaurant’s menu offers an array of dishes and cocktails that please the young and hungry… or, well, all of us. Because the two El Centro restaurants (one on 14th St. and one in Georgetown) are owned by super restaurateur Richard Sandoval, you can be sure that what you eat is well created and well presented. True, few dishes will sound exotic or unfamiliar, yet the staff keeps flavors real. One of the specialties of the El Centro restaurants is the cocktail and mezcal selections, plus some happy hour beers, wines, and sangrias that will kick up the cheeriness. But for many DCers, it’s all about the eats.
El Centro, D. F., 1819 14th St NW, Washington, DC.
Overseen by the James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Cashion (also of Johnny’s Half Shell, the original location of this fab eatery on Capitol Hill), this small but welcoming destination is the real deal. Using organic and sustainable ingredients to form really authentic tacos and quesadillas, Cashion has created a desirable destination for those who love their Mexican fare. The taco menu is simple and straightforward, and like many casual restaurants these days, patrons walk down the serving line and pick what they want. Beverages include horchata and aguas frescas, plus at the right time of day, loads of beers, wines, rum, and margaritas with fresh lime juice. Brunches with breakfast fare are available on weekends.
Taqueria Nacional, 1409 T St., NW, Washington, DC.
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