Editors' pick

Oyamel

Mexican
$$$$ ($15-$24)
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Editorial Review

2013 Fall Dining Guide

2013 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
October 10, 2013

Given the dozens of tacos, seviches and antojitos on the menu, it's easy to over-order at this Mexican playground from creator Jose Andres. (Does the guy ever take a siesta?) But one thing to keep in mind as you're contemplating the small plates is to save room for dessert, specifically the tres leches cake. Oyamel gussies up the traditional comfort of "three milks" with tufts of rummy foam, a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream and clear cubes of pineapple gelatin: nursery food gone to finishing school.

I'm getting ahead of myself. When dessert is just a gleam in your eye, graze on plump shrimp in a tangle of soft onions and black garlic, juicy chicken in a mysterious blanket of mole, maybe a sweet corn tamale that tastes as if it were fresh from Mexico or a seviche of diced tuna, avocado and ... pecans? They work. Details stack up: The oiled rice alongside that chicken is some of the best I've ever had, and the bartender is conversant enough with his spirits to suggest the perfect tequila -- for dessert.

In a city not known for its Mexican restaurants, Oyamel is a trailblazer. Thanks to recent expansion next door, it's also more comfortable than ever. Ask to take your tacos to the left of the foyer, aflutter with (faux) butterflies above your head and on the walls and outfitted with chairs by Philippe Starck.

2010 Fall Dining Guide

2010 Fall Dining Guide

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, October 17, 2010

Serious Mexican food is underrepresented in this world capital, which is one reason I so value Oyamel. Leave it to star chef Jose Andres to help fill a need and his acolyte, Joe Raffa, to see to it that the country is honored with food and drink that taste true to their roots. (Just as in Oaxaca, a diner can find fried grasshoppers on the menu; the kitchen serves them in more than 600 tacos a month.) Presented in a bowl made from lava rock, lush guacamole is made as hot as you ask. Shredded chicken inside a soothing packet of mashed corn, draped with a tingling tomatillo sauce, is a tamal of distinction. The prettiest ceviche in town might well be blanched scallops resting on chili-dusted key lime halves displayed on shiny black stones. Meanwhile, tres leches, that most soothing of cakes, resonates with rum and comes with a colorful garnish of minced pineapple; and the fresh fruit waters (go for mango, or cherry in season) remind us that tequila isn't Mexico's lone liquid attraction. Engaging servers are a plus, though the spirited storefront space could use sprucing up. At least Oyamel has its priorities straight.

Reader Reviews

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Avg reader rating
Good food

We went for brunch. The food was delicious, but the service was really disorganized. Having spoken to a manager, I believe this was a problem with the server rather than a house-wide issue. I would go back, but pay attention to the service and bring in a manager sooner rather than later if it starts to go off the rails.

My favorite tapas

I love Oyamel! The tacos are delicious, the margaritas are the smoothest I've had in DC and the house-made chips and salsa almost spoil my appetite every time I go there. I often stop in to Oyamel after a play at the Woolly Mammoth next door, and it satisfies every time.

Good, But Nothing Special

I went to Oyamel based on the inclusion in the dining guide, and I was whelmed. Not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed. Merely whelmed. The food here was pretty good, but not worth the wait and price. Better tacos at District Taco and Taco Bamba. The same guacamole at El Centro. Nothing really to write home about. If this was my local place and it didn't take 2 hours to get seated, I would give it more stars. But life is about expectations and this place didn't exceed (or totally meet) mine after we ate here.

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