Six months ago we sought out reasons for the dearth of authentic Mexican food in D.C. Rodrigo Albarran, who was born and raised in Mexico City and owns R&R Taqueria, suggested that part of the problem is the city’s relatively small Mexican population.
“We have people from other countries who are making our food,” Albarran told City Paper. Alfredo Solis, the chef and owner of El Sol and Mezcalero agreed: “They can’t do it even though they might be really, really good cooks. It’s like me cooking Chinese food. I don’t think people are going to trust it.”
While the District isn’t blanketed with Mexican joints like Los Angeles, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a handful of gems in places like Mount Pleasant (sample a huitlaloche taco at Taqueria Los Compadres), Columbia Heights (try a lengua huarache at Taqueria Habanero), and Hyattsville, Md. (order anything with chorizo at Taqueria La Placita).
There are also upscale Mexican restaurants like Espita Mezcaleria, which focuses on mezcal and Oaxacan specialties, and José Andrés’ Oyamel. Then there are the margarita-soaked crowd-pleasers like Lauriol Plaza, El Chucho, El Centro, and Mission.
A lot has changed since August. In the past few weeks, a number of new Mexican or Mexican-inspired restaurants have opened, while others announced their plans to debut later in 2018. Consider these seven developments and whether they contribute to making D.C. a town with a more textured Mexican dining scene:
Mayahuel Cocina Mexicana opened on Feb. 8 in Woodley Park, replacing Bar Civita (2609 24th St. NW). It’s helmed by chef and co-owner Miguel Pizarosso, who was born in Bolivia but has long yearned to cook coastal Mexican cuisine.
Andrés made it known that the next pop-up rotating through his downtown ThinkFoodLab (701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW) would be a quick-bites rendition of Oyamel called Butterfly. It may or may not become a brick and mortar restaurant in the future.
The team behind Barracks Row Balkan restaurant Ambar is expanding its culinary repertoire by bringing a restaurant serving tacos, tortas, and plenty of tequila to Silver Spring. It replaces 8407 Kitchen Bar (8407 Ramsey Ave., Silver Spring) and an opening date has not yet been set.
Restaurateurs Fritz Brogan and Reed Landry, who are behind Mission in Dupont and Hawthorne on U Street NW, are doubling down on their Mexican concept by opening Mission Dos across from Nationals Park (1221 Van St. SE). It’s massive—10,000 square feet—and is scheduled to open this summer. Offerings include twelve taco flavors, huaraches, elote, nachos, and flautas.
Taqueria Local is scheduled to open next month at 1627 K St. NW. It’s from nightclub operator Antonis Karagounis, who is behind Echostage, Soundcheck, and Barcode, and his partner Arman Amirshahi. Chef Giovanni Orellana will make tacos, tostadas, burritos, salads, sides, and soups in a fast-casual environment.
Zen Taco just replaced Fuel Pizza at 1747 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The New York import offers tacos and build-your-own bowls that fuse Latin American and Asian flavors. They serve everything from Frito pie to poke.
Chef Roberto Santibañez’s Mi Vida will be among the next restaurants to open at The Wharf (98 District Square SW). Expect everything from street food-inspired dishes to Mexican home cooking at the restaurant. Rotisserie-cooked chicken, beef, and pork will be a major part of the menu. Santibañez hails from Mexico City, where that style is big. He’s best known for Fonda and La Botaneria in New York City, but previously worked in D.C. at Rosa Mexicana. It too will be large—9,500 square feet and roughly 400 seats.