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  • Reservations Recommended

    Restaurant Review ~ Espita Mezcaleria / 1250 9th St., NW

    Oaxaca and mezcala! Olè! For DC foodies, the most wildly exciting newish restaurant is the Shaw neighbohood’s Espita Mezcaleria, a showcase for honest, traditional (not Tex-Mex) dishes and flavors. Add to that its 100 mezcal varietals, and you can eat and drink yourself into a pleasant stupor. Just don’t fall asleep at the bar.

    Credit for the outstanding menu goes to its dedicated chef, Alexis Samayoa, who is determined to present the most authentic Oaxacan food — he even imports heirloom corn regularly to make the deliciously crunchy chips and the flavorful tacos, all of which get assembled daily. He also imports native ingredients from that southern Mexican state, so what you taste is what Mexican natives eat.

    Start your eating fiesta first with an order of guacamole, freshly chopped and stirred with jalapeños, onions, and cilantro. This would not even be accessible without the bowl of chips, all of which you will eat in about three seconds.

    Then, how to describe the seven different salsas, from pistachio, roja, verde asado, macha, chipotle tomatillo, borracha and habanero? None of these are the commonplace supermarket jarred flavors, for sure. And then there are the moles: poblano, amarillo, coloradito, chichilo, pipian, manchamanteles, and negro.

    So much on the menu may puzzle folks who know only Taco Bell dishes that they may find Samayoa’s other offerings exotic. From the fundidos (melted Chihuahua cheese with two different mixes), to sopes (tartlets with a choice of toppings), to tlayudas (large tortillas topped with refried beans and either avocado or crabmeat), and tacos.

    Well, no one should feel intimidated by tacos. Right? The only hitch is that the chef does not use just cooked ground beef, a handful of shredded cheese, and a few lettuce leaves. Nope. Fillings include grilled tilapia, chicken, fabulous lamb cubes, and skirt steak, among others. If you are a lamb fan, these tacos will win your heart and your stomach.

    And you cannot pass up an order of mole. The negro takes the prize for the most succulent and unusual lamb dish in the metro area. Arriving at the table in a cloak of black seasonings and falling apart at the touch of a fork, what you have to consume is a braised lamb neck with enough tender meat to feed two to three people. Plus fresh corn tortillas. This is a feast fit for royalty. Truly.

    When all is said and done, of course, you will want to sip on one or several or many mezcal varietals. If this liquor puzzles you the staff is trained to answer most questions, and the owner (who has a mezcal degree of sorts) can help you along. Just ask to speak to Josh Phillips. And for a few culinary facts, do speak with chef Samayoa, if he is not too busy making tacos.

    Note: Espita Mezcaleria has become increasingly popular, so make dinner reservations for sure. It has recently opened for lunch with a limited menu and also for wwekend brunch.

    Espita Mezcaleria / lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner nightly, brunch Sat., Sun. 202-621-9695; www.espitadc.com.

     

     

     

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    Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.