The Simpler the Better at Los Cuates
By Julia Beizer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009
At a glance: Between 7 and 8 p.m., Los Cuates really starts packing 'em in. Georgetown students, families and other locals begin to take up the tables in this 55-seat restaurant at Wisconsin Avenue and Q Street.
The popularity has been a thrill for proprietors Sergio Kehl, Mauricio Sepulveda and Luis Eladio Merchan, who remember the days when they filled the lunch hours playing chess in the empty restaurant.
Los Cuates, which means "the buddies," describes the trio. They met nine years ago while working at area Mexican restaurants. Mexican dishes are the focus of this menu, but you'll notice some items that nod to Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador, the homelands of the owners.
On the menu: Breeze past more commonplace snacks on the appetizer menu to find the true gems. Fluffy fried plantains are just caramelized on the outside and soft within. Maple and honey flavors come to mind when munching on the sweet and sticky tamalito dulce, a Mexican corn cake big enough for two. In camarones Chiapas, a small handful of shrimp is served in a creamy sauce that's fragrant with cilantro and garlic.
When it comes to entrees, simple is better. Tacos al carbon proved to be my favorite dish: strips of medium-rare skirt steak served atop soft, warm corn tortillas with drawn butter, sour cream, guacamole and salsa on the side. Cheesy enchiladas are another hit.
Kehl reports that fajitas are among the 10-month-old restaurant's most popular items. The pork rib version of the build-your-own dish comes slathered with a sweet-tangy barbecue sauce. (This variety comes with the rib bone in the meat, which Kehl says helps keep the meat juicier. It achieves that goal but is a challenge to eat.) Entrees arrive with refried or black beans and Mexican rice.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the restaurant offers a short but satisfying Mexican brunch menu with items including huevos rancheros, omelets and egg-filled burritos. The cheese-covered, spicy chorizo enchilada delighted. Dishes are served with fresh fruit and a slice of the Mexican corn cake.
For dessert, fried ice cream is popular with regulars. The baseball-size hunk of ice cream is served atop cinnamon-dusted fried dough that has been drizzled with caramel sauce. Better still is the velvety flan.
Each meal at Los Cuates begins with a complimentary basket of chips and a bowl of salsa. The house-made mix is good, but because it's on the runny side, can be messy.
At your service: Service is generally good, but when it's bad, you're in for a long night. Arrive early in the evening, and you'll have better luck.
What to avoid: The guacamole lacks some of the brightness I've come to love in more citrusy varieties, and the queso should be spicier. Pricier and more involved entrees such as the salmon Veracruz and the pollo Reynosa were less successful than the classic tacos, enchiladas and fajitas.
Wet your whistle: Los Cuates offers a selection of margaritas, frozen and on the rocks. Frozen drinks, especially those swirled with flavors including tangerine, mango, strawberry, are very sweet. The concoctions start at $5.95 but can be upgraded with better tequilas. Mexican beer and other cocktails are also available.
Bottom line: You could probably apply the adjective "festive" to any number of Mexican eateries (particularly those places that serve margaritas in glasses with cactus stems), and Los Cuates is no exception. It's a fun joint, and if the crowds are any indication, a great addition to the neighborhood.