Thu 8 Apr 2010
On a recent weekend, I busted myself on having a borderline case of That Girl. As in, That Girl who complains that she can’t find good Mexican food in DC but doesn’t go out of her way to actually look for it. Someone with a more serious case of That Girl is also known to dress like a $2 skank and complain “all the guys in this bar just stare at my boobs, gawwd.” This isn’t company I wanted to keep any time soon. I needed an antidote, stat.
I think part of the challenge of finding a favorite taqueria is there are so many damn hole in the wall places to choose from. I know – what a horrible problem to have, right? DC’s outskirts are overflowing with small counter shops dishing out the authentic food of their homeland. There are some definitive opinions on the best Vietnamese and Ethiopian places for the most authentic just-like-moms-kitchen flavors but I hear very few people rave about authentic Mexican outside of Disitro Federal and Taqueria Nacional. Surely there are more taquerias to love?
For years, Mike and I drove past El Charrito with little more than a second glance. But after several casual recommendations paired with a serious soft taco craving, we decided now was the time to give it a shot.
Our experience – and horchata! – after the jump.
Stepping inside, you get the clear impression El Charrito is a family run restaurant with a distinct diner bent. The open kitchen takes up 80% of the restaurant’s floor space leaving about a dozen stools along the formica bar for dine-in eating. The guy manning the counter greeted us as we took our seats and selected our order from the menu overhead. For our first visit we picked a beef taco and pork taco for me, goat and chorizo for Mike with a side of papusa to share. Plus the tallest horchata they could pour for me. I don’t know why more restaurants don’t serve horchata – it is a positively delightful drink and pairs perfectly with spicy, savory foods. Horchata is a milky sweet beverage typically ladeled out of a jug, made with a combination of rice, almonds, barley, sesame seeds, and tigernuts. The combination of ingredients usually means each restaurant’s horchata is a little different, with some veering to sweet and others to dusty, nutty territory. El Charrito’s horchata was firmly in middle ground: just sweet enough to balance my meal’s spices but also a little chemical-flavored, keeping it from the all time top of the list.
Once our order was in we got to see it move into action in the kitchen as two friendly-faced ladies tossed ingredients on to the grill to sizzle together. While we waited the door creaked and rang as diners came in for carry out orders and quick lunches. Many were clearly regulars and the small space was filled with amiable Spanish conversations. Our orders were served up with little fuss and we dug in.
Of my two tacos, the beef was the clear winner. The soft, fresh off the griddle tortillas yielded to a warm, succulent beef. The bite was offset nicely with crunchy green onions and bright cilantro. I inhaled it. The pork taco was decent. Serviceable but it lacked the punch of the beef. Mike was most pleased with his spicy chorizo blend which added some heat to the juicy pork.
The papusa we shared was pretty good. I’m not papusas’ #1 fan but I can see the appeal of the doughy, potato-and-cheese dish. One of the more suprising elements of this plate was the cole slaw served on the side. It was a refreshing palate cleanser next to the carb and starch heavy papusa, highlighting fresh, crisp cabbage drizzled with a slightly spicy hot sauce.
The verdict? Not bad, not bad at all. The prices are low, the service is friendly, and the food really stands out thanks to the fresh veggies paired with the meats. The beef taco was the far and away winner of our lunch. I’d say two beef tacos and a tall horchata may be my new favorite go-to cheapo lunch. Consider my case of That Girl closed.