The new restaurant on Upshur wants to excite your taste buds with original and traditional Mexican dishes, with a focus on great flavor.
For dining options, Upshur Street has a diner, a Japanese-inspired restaurant, a Latin wine bar, a cocktail bar, a saloon, a wood-fired oven pizza place and heck, even a fast-food Chinese restaurant. And opening Thursday, March 30th, it also has a Mexican restaurant, Taqueria Del Barrio.
According to owner Anna Bran-Leis, the concept behind Taqueria Del Barrio is to provide authentic Mexican flavors, along with variations on traditional themes, in an atmosphere reminiscent of eating outside on a courtyard. That's one reason you'll find lights strung across the ceiling of the restaurant and over the bar, along with the concrete and stone floors and rough, painted brick walls. Soon, you'll be able to enjoy a meal outside along the sidewalk.
"I want this to be a neighborhood place for good Mexican food," Anna said. "It's the kind of restaurant where I can get to know customers, talk to them about their kids, their jobs. A restaurant where people feel welcome. I wanted to have the kind of place that I'd want to go."
Along with general manager Mikey Torres and bar manager Chris Martino, Anna carefully crafted the food and drink menu to accentuate each other, based on complimenting their flavors. You won't find Dos Equis or Corona at the bar, and (right now anyway), there's no burritos on the menu, but you will find custom drinks like "Margarita del Barrio" (featuring Silencio Espadin, pineapple, lime, turmeric and habanero) and Anxo #5 and Bell’s Two Hearted IPA. Of course, you'll also find a wide selection of tacos.
"Tacos are the stars here," Anna said. "I mean, it is a taqueria! I'm not looking to copy any of the other restaurants in the area, but I am looking to keep it somewhat traditional."
Fourteen different tacos are planned or already on the menu, most at $3 each, from lengua (that's tongue, by the way), to pescado, carnitas, al pastor, pollo asado and more. And while there isn't a burrito on the menu, you will find a variety of entree dishes ranging from $12 - $15 , including fajitas, enchiladas, mole con pollo and three different tortas (sandwiches), including a vegetarian one. Other vegetarian options include tacos that offer cactus (nopales), mushrooms (hongos) and sautéed peppers and onions (rajas). Only the quesadilla uses flour tortillas, everything else uses handmade corn tortillas.
Instead of the traditional red beans typically found with Mexican food, you'll find black beans to go along with the rice that accompanies some of the meals. Anna is from Guatemala (hence her preference for black beans, she says), and has traveled throughout Europe and Latin America exploring cuisines and cultures, and brings to Del Barrio the flavors she likes best. With more than 10 years in the culinary industry, she and her husband Shawn are the owners and chefs of the well-known DC Empanadas food truck and its Union Market location.
Along with Anna, both Mikey and Chris are graduates of culinary schools, and their experience and education influences the menu. "Flavor and balance is important," Anna said. "We want to offer authentic Mexican and some specialty tacos, but also some different things." Here Anna laughs while telling me about her passion / obsession with champagne, and how many different types of champagnes will be on the menu, and paired with the food. "I'm working on a champagne and fois gras taco," she said with a smile.
You'll find a Charles de Casanove and a Tete du Cuvee Brut champagne available, as well as white and red wines, rosés and one particular red called "Sexual Chocolate," described by the vineyard as having a "silky soft texture... flavors of blackberry, cherry cola, plum, dark chocolate and a leathery richness only enhance the experience. Concentrated, layered and simply delicious." Sign me up.
Another example of a non-traditional take on an authentic meal are their torta sandwiches. The bread, traditionally a large white bread that is seared on top, is instead made by a Filipino bakery that Anna and Mikey know well and really like, so they decided to use the bakery's bread instead of the traditional. And it's so good -- more like a thick, slightly sweet brioche that pairs oh so well with the meat and other flavors inside.
While some of the restaurant's layout is similar to Domku, which was in the space previously, Taqueria Del Barrio makes it clear that it's using the space differently. Two large flat-screen TVs bookcase the bar in the back of the restaurant, where Anna says various sports will be playing at appropriate times. In front of the bar, and behind it, there is seating for 92, and eventually another 16 out front. They'll be open for brunch on the weekends, starting at 11am. (Full hours below.)
Oh, and Petworth parents, Anna has you covered. "I'm a mom, I totally get it," she said. You'll find a kids' menu with non-spicy options, high chairs and boosters and a changing table in one of the bathrooms (and you really have to check out the bathrooms...).
Anna said she wanted a family-friendly, neighborhood restaurant that serves delicious Mexican food, the kind of place she'd want to go to. Sounds like that's what they've created.
Taqueria Del Barrio
821 Upshur St NW
- Monday: closed
- Tue - Thurs: 4pm - 12am (kitchen closes at 11pm)
- Friday: 4pm - 1am (kitchen closes at midnight)
- Saturday: 11am - 1am (kitchen closes at midnight)
- Sunday: 11am - 10pm (kitchen closes at 9pm)