When it comes to Mexican restaurants, I have learned that I can usually come to expect certain things. These include gloppy, soggy food, over-priced margaritas, and a huge cheese factor (both in decor and as a topping to the previously mentioned gloppy, soggy food). After visiting Lauriol Plaza, Guapos, and Cactus Cantina, I’ve become weary of DC’s Mexican restaurant offerings, whose crappy food makes it difficult to tell the difference between a tortilla and a tort.
With that in mind, I generally avoid Mexican restaurants, feeling that I can make better tacos, and Drew can make better burritos, than we have ever found in a restaurant. However, an interesting review in the Washington Post Magazine a couple of weekends ago, coupled with a pretty great recommendation from a friend of Mexican descent led us to Casa Oaxaca, a new restaurant in Adams Morgan supposedly known for its “authentic” Mexican food. I put my general aversion to Mexican restaurants aside and decided to give it a shot.
Upon walking in to the restaurant, I was definitely encouraged by the appearance of the place. Offering rich colored paint and a cozy atmosphere, Casa Oaxaca was definitely inviting, not overwhelming like other Mexican places. Just the right volume of tasteful salsa music played in the background.
We arrived at 7 and were the only people there–it quickly filled up though, and by 7:30, the dining room was about half to 3/4 full. I was with a party of 4, so we had enough space at our table. Other people in groups of two seemed a bit squished. You’ll probably want to make a reservation if you go on the weekend.
Greeted by a plate of jicama rather than tortilla chips and salsa, I even became a little excited as we sat down. I ordered a house margarita. It was delicious. I had another. At Casa Oaxaca, there’s a tequila list the size of many restaurants’ wine lists–I just stuck to the house offering, though.
We all shared the kekas for an appetizer — small blue corn quesadillas with huitlacoche, poblano pepper, and pork carnitas. These were really good and were one of my favorite parts of the meal. I’ve heard the plantains are excellent as well, but not being a big plantain fan, I can’t say for certain because I didn’t eat them!
I guess the thing at Casa Oaxaca is their moles, or different sauces. I decided to try the tres moles, which is a chicken breast with all three moles–yellow, green, and brown–served on top. The review in the Washington Post magazine describes the chicken breast as a “palette” for the moles, and I like this description. The chicken breast, while moist and tender, was definitely secondary to the moles. The moles looked beautiful, and I liked the idea of trying all of them together. But, to be honest, I found them a little bland. I was hoping for some more punch with these sauces. My favorite was the yellow mole, but even that left something to be desired. The brown mole, especially, lacked flavor. In reality, the side of black beans left more of an impression on me than the main course–these were absolutely delicious! My friend Lindsey ordered a chicken breast with the brown mole and it looked very average. Drew had the enchiladas, and said they were just “eh”– nothing special. Drew and our two friends had some flan for dessert. I don’t really care for flan, so I passed and had another margarita instead! The dessert looked pretty good though.
Overall, my experience at Casa Oaxaca was a positive one. The service was great, the drinks were very good, and the decor created an inviting atmosphere where you can actually enjoy conversation with people at your table, unlike loud noisy places such as Zaytinya. Also, for a barhopping crowd, the location couldn’t get any better, as it’s located just a stone’s throw from all of Adams Morgan’s most popular bars. I would much prefer Casa Oaxaca to any other Mexican restaurant I have tried in DC. So I guess in a relative sense, Casa Oaxaca is a standout in its genre, and shows that Mexican food need not always be a gloppy mushy mess. However, compared to DC restaurants in general, I wouldn’t say that this place is anything extraordinary. It was also a bit annoying that I paid $17 basically for a boneless chicken breast with some sauce on it–something that feels like I could make at home for about $1. Would I go back? Sure. Would I seek it out over other places? Nah.
Overall Rating: C+
Heading to DC Coast with my parents this weekend. Anybody been?