Editors' pick

Mama Chuy

Tex-Mex
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Editorial Review

Where to eat tacos now
By Lavanya Ramanathan
Dec. 28, 2011

This charming restaurant near Howard University serves traditional food hailing from Mexico's Jalisco state. Opened in December 2011, Mama Chuy is a family affair. It's run by Dinora Orozco and her brother Joe Orozco (a one-time line cook from Potenza), who named the restaurant for their grandmother, who also provided the pair with inspiration and many of the recipes.

"We wanted to give people a taste of what its like to have a taco in Mexico," says Dinora. On the menu are small tamales filled with pork stew; a half-dozen varieties of street-food-sized tacos, including a carne asada (steak) incarnation and flash-fried carnitas (slow-cooked pork) version; and tortas, that hearty Mexican sandwich we've spied on menus across town (this one features Mexican sour cream, meat or veggies, beans, avocados, lettuce and tomato stacked on traditional bread).

The prices may be the best part: Two tacos run around $4, while quesadillas are a steal at around $3. Happy hour is another bargain: Monday-Saturday, 4-7 p.m., margaritas and cuba libres are just $3.

Vegetarians are taken care of here, with options including the papas fritas (french fries, topped with lime, cilantro and tangy, traditional Chihuahua cheese) and the vegetarian flautas and tacos (both are stuffed with three kinds of mushrooms).Quesadillas look promising, particularly the poblano pepper-chickpea puree one, which I'll be going back to try. Vegan options aren't available yet, but a tamale is on the way, says Orozco, a former vegan.

Many of the tacos can be had as sopes, a crunchy cake of deep-fried masa topped with the taco filling and eaten with your hands. Laborious to make, they're a treat in Mexico, Orozco says-- and a rare treat on menus here, too.

The decor is modern with traditional touches, including tables inlaid with ceramic tiles imported from Jalisco and textured wallpaper that gives you a zen feeling.

Is there any chance the pair will yield and put a pupusa on the menu?

Says Orozco: "We're Mexican, this is Mexican, we're going to stay Mexican."