Photos By Franz Mahr, Words By Brandon Wetherbee
2014 is going to be the year you drink Margaritas and eat tacos between a few shipping containers on U St.
El Rey, conveniently located at 919 U St NW, will be open from 5pm to 2am Sunday through Thursday, 5pm to 3am Friday and Saturday and their taco window will be open and hour later each night. El Rey is likely to be busy from 5pm to 2am Sunday through Thursday, 5pm to 3am Friday and Saturday.
The restaurant/bar/whatever something that serves quality Mexican food and drinks between two shipping containers and a retractable roof, will be the American Ice Company of the year. El Rey is in a slightly higher traffic area, also features an outdoor/indoor space that allows smoking and has a limited but quality drink menu. Their no frills, stellar Margaritas and Sangria cost $8 a glass or $40 a pitcher, the exact right price to never want to leave the space. Add in a happy hour and if you’re at El Rey when they open, it wouldn’t be a shock if you didn’t leave til close (not recommended).
The food at El Rey isn’t going to change your life. It’s not supposed to. It’s well-made, reasonably priced Mexican food in a city that desperately needs more well-made, reasonably priced Mexican food. Nearly all of the ingredients are made in house. Those on a gluten free diet actually have decent options. Same for vegetarians. Did we mention it actually tastes good? It tastes good. It tastes like those great, cheap Mexican food dives in Chicago and Los Angeles with better quality ingredients.
The decor is inviting and different. The lighting in the back ‘room’ (what do you call a space with not exactly four walls and not exactly a ceiling, a more stable tent?) is movie-esque. If there was a show like “Happy Endings” set in DC, they’d use the back of El Rey as their set.
The front room, through small, is warm and fun. It’s obvious that you’re in/near shipping containers, but the repurposed, stenciled signs, vintage metal ads for pop and industrial table bases make it feel like you’re in a brighter Goodwood.
This place is going to be packed. It was on opening night. It wasn’t full of press or friends or foodies, it was packed with everyone. Press and friends and foodies were all there, but it was also full of people wondering just what those colorful shipping containers have been doing on U. Also, can I get a taco? By 7:15 (it opened at 7 last night), there were no more seats. If you wanted a taco, you had to use the window. A wonderful, DC-obviously-needs-more-taco-places problem.