District Taco – Washington, DT

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District Taco sign

“Always fresh! Always Mexican!” -actual motto

“Cancel my afternoon meetings and clear my schedule! I’m going out for the rest of the day!” I shouted aloud… in my house… walking around in nothing but sweatshorts (yes, sweatshorts! They don’t make promises they can’t keep). I figured the principle of Jeopardy watching where I only get the answer right if I say it out loud, even if I’m by myself, applied here. Is it silly to pretend that my living quarters are a “home office” because I’m unemployed? Absolutely. Am I slowly losing my grip on reality? Entirely possible. Have I been watching Pacific Rim too much lately? No way…

A truly groundbreaking film

I could watch this for hours. And by that, I mean I do

But this day was just too gorgeous to spend inside because it was one of the handful of magical days in DC that isn’t winter but the sweltering swamp ass of summer hasn’t settled in yet either. What’s that? There’s a name for this phenomena? Spring? Hmm…

Regardless of what the fancy name for this weird weather pattern was, I figured today was as good as day as any to hop on the old bicicleta and hit up the place that has had the most requests for the Pino de Gallo treatment: District Taco. Started as a food truck in 2009 by two neighbors, “DT” now has three locations in the city near Dupont, Capitol Hill, and Downtown, and one remote location in some far off land of Arlington. I wasn’t prepared to purchase a plane ticket to go to the land of JMU and UVA alums trying to live extensions of their college lives, so I had to stay in the district. This time I ventured to the downtown location – 1309 F St NW. I had heard that the lunch rush was big, so I went mid-afternoon to avoid being reminded how much I hate people.

The big menu was a bit intimidating at first, but when I cleared out all the clutter (aka non-burrito related items), I was able to find my jam. I appreciate a menu that makes it like a “choose your own adventure” young adult novel, which makes it so that the simple uptight suit wearing “employed” people of downtown DC can easily select a burrito and toppings quickly, while a burrito connoisseur like myself can really get into the nuances of the Mexican craft.

I stepped up and ordered an al pastor burrito (carved rotisserie pork, marinated with guajillo and served with chopped pineapple) with garlic-lime rice, grilled vegetables (green peppers & onions), pico de gallo, lettuce, cilantro, jalapeños, and cheese. Total cost with tax: $7.70. Not bad, even though I’m on a fixed income and if I wanted a “premium topping” (bacon, chorizo, or guacamole) it would have been an additional $1.50. After I was handed the laminated picture of a sombrero that indicated my order number, I strolled around the burritoria, past the colorful array of Mexican beers, and noticed the large wall of post-its.

Post-its claiming to be from all over espoused the greatness of District Taco. “Michigan loves District Taco!” “Rutgers approves!” (like that’s a high bar, New Jersey) “She wanted the ‘DT’” (I get it!), and “I wish it would rain tacos!” Then I saw a post-it for “Penn Class of 2015”, became annoyed at the unexpected reminder of my age and decided to stare at the salsa bar for a while.

I scooped some of each into little to-go containers, and before I knew it, my burrito was ready. Into my backpack it went, and I was off to find a better view to enjoy while eating this burrito. I often take for granted that I live in our nation’s capital and so many people flock here to see the things I see everyday. (Well not all the things, but you can use Bing’s video search for that stuff)

I found a bench on the north side of the Rock Dong, the largest all stone obelisk in the world. As I began the prep work of laying out the salsas along the bench, I noticed tourists coming up and taking the incredibly stereotypical picture with our nation’s Rock Dong. I excitedly snapped a pic, until I realized that even on in the middle of a weekday on a relatively isolated side of it, this would be a regular occurrence every five minutes. Didn’t stop me from giggling to myself though and taking pictures of them.

 

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When I pulled the brown paper bag out of my backpack, I was relieved to not see any notes of grease or salsa leaking through. When I unwrapped the burrito, I was pleased to see that the steamed tortilla and its contents had survived the bike ride. On my first bite, I encountered a large chunk of juicy pineapple. When I found the meat, it was legit. With a light char and guajillo seasoning, it paired well with the pineapple. As I dug through the burrito, I periodically hit up my own mini-salsa bar rotating across the four I had. Generally speaking, and I believe I’ve made this clear before, I greatly prefer my salsas to be on the inside of the burrito (the greatest food delivery mechanism ever Mexcreated), but it is nice to be able to shift flavors while in the burrito.

The tomatillo (verde) salsa was too tangy, almost lemony, and watery. I was not a fan. The roasted tomato (dark) salsa was excellent and definitely my favorite – thick & hearty while delicious. The mestizo salsa was not very good, mostly just heat, and if I’ve learned anything from Frank’s Red Hot it’s that I want “tang and flavor… not just heat!” The Chiltomate salsa (bright red, I think) tasted of chile de arbol, one of my favorite spicy Mexican flavors, had some heat to it, and although a bit chalky, was also damn good.

The flavors blended well in the burrito and with the rotating hits of salsa I didn’t noticed until halfway through the disconcerting absence of some of the ingredients I ordered. I’m not sure if they were forgotten or just negligible, but there was no hint of the jalapeños or cilantro (and I love cilantro, I’d bathe in it if I could), the cheese was damn near undetectable (ibid. cheese), and the lettuce and pico de gallo were sparse. The roasted veggies were crisp and plentiful (although not as good as Far East’s), and while I never tasted any flavor in the rice, it did not take away from the burrito and was well cooked. The tortilla was moist and maintained its structure through the demolishing with almost no drippage.

I enjoyed my trip to District Taco. I wasn’t blown away on this visit, but I liked their options and the main courses in the burrito were enjoyable. While I was comfortably full at the end of the meal, I would have preferred the burrito to be a bit larger for the money and force them to stuff in all the ingredients I ordered. If they’re going to offer all those great ingredients, they should make sure they actually end up in the burrito. 3.5 / 5 Sombreros, would burrito again.

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District Taco
1309 F St NW.
(202) 347-7359
@DistrictTaco

35pinos

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Atlas has Sol

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Sol Cantina Sign

Oh my goodness, what is this? There seems to be a huge tournament of amateur basketball flooding my television. It’s a non-stop deluge of white guys taking layups, awkward college kids passing the ball around the perimeter, and undersized forwards who don’t know how to pass out of a double team. And if you thought the professional game moved just a little too quickly for you, don’t you worry because the NC2A has taken the liberty of slowing that down to a nice easy paced 90 second shot clock. What’s that? It’s only 35 seconds? Could have fooled me.

“Low scoring! Slow shooting! And missed layups? We’ve got ’em!”

This beautiful Thursday was the kick off of what people have started calling “Crazy March”. I assume that’s because it’s insane how excited people get for low quality basketball but in the end, they’re looking for any reason to avoid doing work or relive their glory days of going to games at Eastern Southern State University. (“But it’s exciting! They try so hard!” It’s only exciting because of how often they mess up. Trying =/= succeeding.)

“I’m picking based on school colors!” “I’ve got Mercer going all the way!”

That morning I had posted my heroic tale of “Mase vs. El Toro“, and a normal person would be totally averse to ever eating a burrito again after such an experience. But I am not a normal person; I am Mase Pino and this is Pino de Gallo, and like the burrito-aficionado I am, I went in search of a nearby yummy burrito to enjoy as young men ran around on my TV trying to put a leather pumpkin in a peach basket. Plus everyone has been bugging me to review a burrito in DC, so now’s as good a time as any.

I ventured out in my neighborhood of H St. (also known as the Atlas District) to the nearby Sol Mexican Cantina at the corner of 12th & H St. NE, a restaurant less than a year old based on the food truck of the same name. I have stopped by a number of times with Hustle Russell for $2 taco Tuesdays, which has been enjoyable in the past, so why not try their burritos this time? 2014-03-20 15.20.48

The menu has a number of the classics – pollo, carnitas, barbacoa; but, it also includes some other authentic but less common options like fish & lengua (beef tongue), and some options that will appeal to other people like brisket (real Americans) and vegan (un-Americans) . Beyond their very welcoming sign are the instructions to order: Meat => Free Toppings => Extras => Alcohol. Perfecto.

With the counter behind glass layout, I could get a Cyclops style eye-full of the ingredients and make a snap judgement on what I thought looked good that day. This day, the carnitas were calling out to me saying, “Mase, please choose us! We won’t let you down like so many women, employers, and Wiz-ards draft picks have before!” So I said, “Carnitas… I choose you!” The tortilla was immediately thrown into the steamer, which means they must have read Pino de Gallo and known that I greatly prefer a steamed tortilla over grilled because of its texture and structural integrity. From there it was the standard run of pinto beans (choice of black beans as well), Mexican rice (or white, if that’s what you prefer… racist), lettuce, red onion, pico de gallo, salsa verde, habanero salsa, cheese, and cilantro (which I was happy to see because I love cilantro and I feel bad for those out there that think it tastes like soap). I declined the premium ingredients and alcohol because I’m unemployed and have Kirkland brand whiskey at my house, so the final damage was:  $7.86 – Not a bad deal for a hearty burrito.

2014-03-20 15.21.06

In the comfort of my own home (read: pantsless), I tore into this burrito. I immediately caught the flavor of juicy, salty carnitas that were moist and rich in texture. The habanero salsa added a noticeable and welcomed kick to the burrito, but the other two salsas (verde & pico) got lost in the cacophony of flavor sounds. The pintos were juicy but did not add much to the experience. The Mexican rice had a subtle meaty/hearty flavor that complimented the rest of the burrito and acted as the solid foundation it should be. The tortilla did not impress me in terms of quality (looked/felt store bought), but it held up to the rigors of a Mase Pino burrito demolishing. The end result was a bit wetter and messier than I would have liked, so I will likely skip the pico de gallo next time.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the Sol burrito. I am comforted knowing I have an above average burrito within walking distance of my house. My socks were still on at the end of this sitting, but at this moment it’s definitely the best place to get a burrito for a good distance. If you’re on H St. and can’t get into Toki or Granville Moore’s and aren’t in the mood for Taylor Gourmet or H &Pizza, then catch some Sol.

Verdict: 3.5 Sombreros

Sol Mexican Cantina
1251 H st NE, Washington, District of Columbia 20002
(202) 808-2625

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Chipeezy fo’ reezy

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What presentation!

Beautiful day in Friendship Heights. I was very hungry and we realized that today would be the first day of the spring that we could sit outside for lunch. We decided to go to the über-popular Chipotle. These things are poppin’ up almost as frequently as websites about hipsters. Almost daily someone from my office goes down to Chipeezy for lunch, and when they ask if I want to go… how can I possibly say no?

So I roll down to Chipeezy, about 50 deep with co-workers…. give or take 40 (yeah, it was probably closer to 90), we post up at some tables and go to town on a variety of Mexican fare. The long and short of Chipotle is that you get quality food and convenience with a decent variety of choices at only a slight premium. Major bonus points go to the many environmental and animal welfare policies that Chipotle implements.  Napkins of recycled paper, and food with integrity means that the meat is treated humanely and not fed anti-biotics or hormones.

Real Meat, eh? Bold move, Chipotle.

To my knowledge, Chipotle is the only nation-wide chain that does anything like this. There are a lot of good links and reading suggestions (like Michael Pollan’s The Ominvore’s Dilemma) on the Chipotle website. At least they’re using their burrito powers for good.

In the past, I have gotten the chicken burrito ($6.10 + tax) because it is cheaper and I generally prefer poultry over pork or beef. I decide to switch it up and get barbacoa ($6.50 +tax) – shredded, seasoned beef, similar to carnitas. Chipotle manages to churn out burritos at an impressive rate, which means that even when the line is long, the wait is bearable and worth it. We start with a steamed tortilla (I love burritos with steamed tortillas – it improves texture, decreases dryness, and makes the burrito more structurally sound). Throw on some white cilantro rice (disappointed that it’s white, but I love the cilantro), and the option of black or pinto beans – an important option to have. Carnitas and barbacoa both look dried up like 50 Cent’s career, but we’ll see how it tastes (and as I wait for another 50¢ album, come on buddy!) 

Four options for salsa: pico de gallo (mild… hey! That name sounds familiar!), roasted chili-corn salsa (medium), tomatillo-green chili salsa (medium), and tomatillo-red chili salsa (hot).  To say the pico de gallo is mild is like saying Lady Gaga has a peculiar fashion sense. It adds moderate taste and texture, but doesn’t have a knock out flavor, although none of the salsas do. I end up throwing together 3 of them: the pico, the corn “salsa” (really, it’s just corn), and the tomatillo-red chili salsa, which does add a bit of spice, but not much considering it’s billed as “hot.” Guacamole is an additional $1.85 on meat burritos, which is a big minus. The guacamole is delicious and I believe each individual avocado is tenderly loved and raised on Baby Mozart and then has its balls caressed ever so gently when it’s time to make the salsa.  While I appreciate organic and whatnot, $1.85 makes it unrealistic to ever put guac in the burrito.

Finally, add on some sour cream (nice option), throw in some shredded cheese and romaine lettuce, and wrap that sucker up! I am hungry and excited, and being the showman that I am, I am giddy with anticipation to have people watch me devour this burrito and critique it on the fly.  My co-workers are equally riveted at the prospect of seeing a real live burrito connoisseur in action.

Hard at work

Grab a seat and go to town. The meat did in fact taste as dry as it looked. I would not recommend getting the carnitas or barbacoa ever. I can say from experience that the chicken is quite tasty and rarely too dry; the steak is somewhat bland but has not had the same dryness problem as the pork; and the veggie burrito, as long as the preparers don’t overwhelm it with beans, is very satisfying, delicious, and never dry (probably b/c of the big helping of guac and salsa you’re able to get on it).

So, as I said at the beginning, Chipotle is a great option because of its accessibility and quality of ingredients. It’s not particularly creative and has somewhat limited options, but that doesn’t stop people from lining up to get a piece. I can assuredly say that Chipotle is the best chain burrito joint that I have encountered so far. Bonus points for locations and food with integrity practices.

Final verdict: 3.5/5 Sombreros

Enter the District (Taqueria Distrito Federal)

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It's the American way!

 

Rainy sunday, woke up in the mid-afternoon… called up Benny Z, just to see how he’s doin’. My blue-eyed-MI….T educated-“one hell of a catch-friend” from Boston, Benny Z was in town for the afternoon because of a Bar Mitzvah in Silver Spring. Thankfully, it wasn’t one of those really fun-maneshevitz flowing like wine- bar mitzvahs that the “reformed” J-O-Os in the suburbs threw when I was in middle school; no, this was a legit prayin’-Kosher-lochs ‘n bagels-early morning Bar Mitzvah. Me First & the Gimme Gimme’s did not ruin this one. This gave us the afternoon free for beer, burritos, and “bro” time. (That is the first and last time I will ever use the phrase “bro time”, but I’m a sucker for alliteration. Alliteration always.) 

I had heard some recommendations to check out this place just north of the Columbia Heights metro station. When I asked people about this place, I got responses like “authentic,” “great menu,” “I’m sorry, I don’t give change to homeless people,” and “Please stop harassing me, I don’t know you.”  All signs pointed to making this an early stop on the burrito blog, so there we went, roommates M-Chow and Patchy in tow. 

We found the restaurant – a tiny place on 14th st. with a low ceiling and one open dining area. The first thing I noticed was a small piece of paper that says “Hay que comer para vivir y no vivir para comer,” which translates to “One must eat to live, not live to eat.” This eatery would probably be more popular if it dropped this mantra because that is counter to our country’s value system. In America, we eat as much as we want, whenever we want, regardless of how many third world fingers, dolphin dorsal fins, or endangered spotted owls it took to make us the food. Then we get type-2 diabetes, buy a Rascal Scooter, and complain about how Obama is turning this country socialist. 

Whoa. So many choices.

 

When one opens the menu, one is immediately impressed by the meat options. It makes pink sock night at Wonderland look like Lilith Fair.  These options include al pastor (marinated beef & pork), carnitas (pork), carne asada (grilled steak), chorizo (Mexican sausage), and pollo (chicken) amongst the mainstream options. Rarer, and very interesting, choices included lengua (beef tongue), barbacoa versions of chivo (goat) and res (beef), costilla puerco (baby pork ribs), and for the health conscious vegan, the chicarron en salsa verde (pork skin in green sauce). This time I chose to play it safe and get al pastor; one of my favorites back home that I have not seen frequently in DC. 

Costilla Puerco - looks delicious!

 

These burritos ($7.00) are described on the menu as containing “your choice of meat, pinto beans, rice, cream, cheese, onions, cilantro and avocado.”  That sounds like some pretty good options to me. M-Chow and Patchy both chose the vegetarian burrito, which I didn’t think was an option. M-Chow tried to get more avocado put into hers as the replacement for the meat, but I think something was lost in translation because the end result was, by her accounts, little more than beans and rice. Looks like this place is just like the Bonesaw – all about the meat! 

We were served some chips and salsa to munch on while waiting for our burritos. I feel this is an imperative of any sit down or quasi-sit down Mexican restaurant. Let me try your different salsa while I get warmed up for the maincourse. It’s like foreplay for the burrito experience. The salsa verde was soupy and slightly above mediocre. The habanero salsa was indeed spicy (or “picante” if you will), and very flavorful. It was easily my favorite. Their array of Mexican beverages was also a plus. The horchata was quite good. 

When the burrito emerged from the kitchen and made its way to our table, I laid my eyes upon a grilled burrito of moderate  size. Nothing to brag about, but I’m sure it would satisfy most mere mortals. Here I encountered the most authentic and best tasting rice I have encountered thus far on my burrito journey. The rice was flavorful, moist, and had a great texture. The al pastor meat blend was also “muy rico” and very enjoyable. Downside was the lack of the rest of the promised goods in the burrito. Avocado was undetectable, as was the majority of the ingredients. I love cilantro, cheese, and sour cream. Sadly, they were not in sufficient quantities to properly utilize their skills in the tortilla orgy known as the burrito. Ideally, no one flavor would be over powering, but it was clear that in this case, the balance was off and the rice and meat were far and away the dominant flavors. 

Although the ratios in the burrito were less than ideal, I would heavily recommend Distrito Federal for any burrito enthusiast. The meat varieties alone make it worth multiple trips. I know that I will be a repeat customer. 

 

Taqueria Distrito Federal
http://www.taqueriadf.com/reviews.php
3463 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20010