WAPO’s restaurant critic declared it a contender for D.C.’s best mexican restaurant. I take issue – its worth a visit but you need to be a particular type of dinner, perhaps one who likes the “next best thing” rather than a fab restaurant experience.
I am talking about Espita Mascaleria that is on the corner of N and 9th in Shaw neighborhood DC. (side note: exact location where only about 4-5 years ago on a cold winter night we bought our Christmas tree from the garden center that was there.) First, its a great location in a fun, emerging part of town. For out of towners, its easy to get to – a short walk from K Street and only about a block from the Convention Center Green/Yellow line metro.
The decor is heavy – heavy dark wood tables that are really cool looking and, not too deep so you actually feel like you are eating with your dinner partner. Heavy, dark art with a lot of Mexican influenced skeleton’s and other culture references – its really neat stuff. Chairs are comfy and there is a great outside patio and decent sized bar.
The atmosphere alone makes it worth a visit – kick back, have a drink, a little mexican food and take it all in – its just a cool, genuinely, not trying to hard hype environment. Its loud so be ready.
The menu is no question, really legit mexican and it is clearly all fresh. The mole is its signature with a good variety from light to heavy and spicy.
The menu is meant to be shared – a variety of tapas. You can select from the offering of interesting tacos (oyster or lamb for example). They also have a good selection of salsas and ceviche along with some other mexican dishes – salads with avocados etc. and dishes with corn tortillas.
We tried the Hamachi ceviche with pineapple, radishes, a bit of complex, spicy, dense, smoky salsa – super good. We had the roja salsa and the gaucamole with our chips. The roja salsa was thick and not too flavorful- reminded me of tomato paste – I would not get it again. My husband had the pipian pork mole. It repeated the heavy them – the sauce very heavy and although a decent mole flavor, it was just too sticky. The pork melted in your mouth. I had the fundido – a corn tortilla with a layer of beans, then lettuce, avocado and a mozzaralla type cheese that had a little funkiness to its flavor. Really it was something I could make it home in about two seconds.
As for drinks – they really want you to try one of their mezcal drinks and the wait staff is more than happy to tell you about the selections. In its essence mezcal is fermented agave from a particular region of Mexico – the south for the most part – really its tequila but it is good.
The wait staff was engaged, attentive and willing to offer their opinions and recommendations – clearly well-trained.
Here is the thing though – I am a foodie and if I need the waitress to spend what seemed to be about eternity for me to understand what a particular dish consisted of – its no good – too much work and to much mystery.
And… the whole meal took way way too long to get out to us. Now, to their credit, its good they aren’t hustling us out. But… good grief – I was actually the one getting irritated, bored and impatient when that is my husband’s role after about 15 minutes. We were way passed that. Even when we asked the waitress to bring our check…. she filled up our water glasses and went away as if we never asked – it was almost strange. Again – I commend them for letting guests linger – so many places turn tables so fast that you are grabbing your plate back from the waiter to get your last bit of dessert. But this was way too much – in their verve to create an experience – they created a dinner that lasted just way too long. This includes the interminable wait for our actual meals.
All in all – go for it – like I said – great environment, some interesting selections, knowledgeable staff but I am not compelled to return.