Words By Jonny Grave, Photos By Nicholas Karlin
For any new restaurant to even catch the eye of the discerning customer, they ought to offer one of three things; something unique, something traditional, or something affordable. Taqueria del Barrio looks like it can pull off all three.
Anna Bran-Leis has a new spot. After her wild success with DC Empanadas (the food truck and the shop at Union Market), she’s working to bring traditional, regional Mexican food and cocktails to Petworth’s main drag. She’s evidently a big fan of tacos, boasting a menu with fourteen kinds of tacos. There’s the traditional flavors, like al pastor and carne asada, but there’s also more delicate, and harder-to-find flavors, like hongos (mushrooms!) and nopales (cactus and nectar!). What’s even more special is that all of these tacos are going to come in at a steady $3 apiece.
The new space, formerly Domku, features a few new appointments, most notably the Lotería-style wall art by Matthew McMillan. Done poorly, this kind of art would be considered chintzy, or even tacky. Here, McMillan’s use of vibrant colors under subtly weathered design makes the pieces look lived-in, and homey. Just like a place you’ve eaten a few dozen times.
The rest of the Taqueria is justifiably unremarkable. Simple tables and chairs, exposed brick, a nice skylight, two televisions, and a pair of bay windows. It’s simple for a couple reasons: first, they want your attention to be drawn to the person you’re talking to, or to the food on your plate, or to the drink in your hand. General Manager Mikey Torres told us the chairs are incredibly easy to clean, which is great when the place will inevitably get flooded by children. Petworth has changed drastically in the past few years, and a lot of the current residents now have kids. Taqueria del Barrio will feature a kid’s menu, too. They’re open to all.
Well, not until Thursday, of course. In the meantime, Beverage Director Chris Martino worked away on a few cocktails behind the bar, honing in the final taste notes for the cocktail menu. Like the food menu, they’ll offer classics. Margaritas, Palomas, Mojitos, and Daiquiris are all found here. But, looking farther down the list, there’s a few innovative flavors muddled into the mix. The menu’s En Fuego, which is basically a Belizian “panty-ripper”, features Chacho, a jalapeño-spiked aguardiente made right here in the District. Marino’s own signature cocktails are the perfect flourish on the already stately cocktail menu. His I Wanna Be Down struts a mix of Copper & Kings brandy, locally-produced Don Cicchio & Figli pear liqueur, Cointreau, fresh-squezed lemon, and the faintest dose of cardamom. The balance of these flavors takes years to master. Martino’s long history behind the bar (he helped open Jack Rose, by the way) shows.
Certainly affordable, definitely innovative, and lovingly traditional, Taqueria del Barrio and the incredible team behind it is set to be a fixture on Upshur.
Taqueria del Barrio, 821 Upshur St NW, opens Thursday, March 30. They’ll be open 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. on Sunday and close at 10 p.m. on Sunday, midnight Tuesday through Thursday and 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The kitchen will close one hour before the bar.