Duck flautas at Fuego Cocina y Tequileria
Tue, Jan 29, 2013
Some Like It Hot
Newcomers to the Mexican cuisine scene deliver plenty of steam and taste.
For years, it was difficult to find much in the way of seriously good Mexican food around here. Sure, there was José Andrés’ Oyamel for an upscale adventure and the family-run R&R Taquería in Elkridge, Md., for more casual fare, but that was it.
But for those who love south of the border cuisine, the last few months have seen that void ably filled.
One of the hottest newcomers is Arlington, Va.’s Fuego Cocina y Tequileria (2800 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, Va.; 571/970-2180, fuegova.com), pictured left. The two-story corner restaurant features bold flavors and shareable presentations. Queso fundido arrives at the table bubbling in a skillet, the outer rim caramelized. Spoon its gooey strings into freshly made corn tortillas, making sure to get some of the bits of spicy crumbled chorizo into the mix.
Decadent duck flautas come in crackly flash-fried casings with a chocolaty mole negro dipping sauce on the side, while duos of tacos filled with tempting options such as roasted goat, beef brisket and crispy tilapia are served with two house-made salsas.
When it comes time for dessert, the velveteen coconut mousse cake with a tart layer of lime curd and passion fruit caramel is a good bet. So is the tres leches cake with cream cheese frosting and sweet guava sauce.
There’s a fun and festive air across the river at Columbia Heights’ El Chucho (3313 11th St. NW; 202/290-3313). A pair of giant dice dangles from the ceiling, the walls are spritzer pink, and music blares from the speakers behind the well-stocked bar.
Begin your meal with a nonalcoholic “casamade refrescos,” either a light coffee soda elevated with clove, cinnamon and allspice, or the silky coco nut with kaffir lime. Craft cocktails include an unexpectedly winning blackberry poblano pepper margarita that comes at you with a vinous front before leaving you with a whip crack of chili at the end. A first-class selection of tequilas and mezcals are on hand if you’re looking for something even stronger.
Chef Diana Davila-Boldin, who also helms the kitchen at Jackie’s in Silver Spring, Md., designed a menu that includes two must-have appetizers. The intermittently blackened kernels of the skewered grilled corn are decorated with a twizzle of mayo, chopped cilantro, crumbled queso fresco and lime-spiked chili salt. Rounds of cucumbers and radishes spark the well-salted guacamole, which comes with a standard salsa and snappy tortilla chips.
When it comes time to order entrees, opt for the estimable tacos. Pairs of the handheld street-food favorites come irreverently served on aluminum surgical trays. My favorites are the chicken piled with golden squares of sautéed onions and the crumbled pork that tastes even better with a squeeze of lime.
If you didn’t get enough of these Mexican mainstays, head to Taco Bamba in Falls Church, Va. (2190 Pimmit Dr., Falls Church, Va.; tacobambarestaurant.com). The taquería is the love child of Victor Albisu, former executive chef of BLT Steak. Fanciful lottery cards decorate the counter in front of the open kitchen, while limited seating is available throughout the compact space.
You can certainly go traditional here. Tacos filled with al pastor, carne asada and carnitas are all available. The chef-driven nuevo Latino selections are even more exciting. Consider the surf ’n’ turf filled with pork and charred octopus or options that spotlight offal such as head, tongue or tripe. The rest of the menu includes a burger, wings and grilled corn. If you feel inspired by your meal, stop by Plaza Latina Market and butchery two doors down when you leave—it’s owned by Albisu’s mother and provides the restaurant with many of its specialty ingredients.