Editors' pick

Taqueria Distrito Federal

Latin American, Mexican, Salvadoran
$$$$ ($14 and under)
'

Editorial Review

Taqueria Distrito Federal blends with the neglected storefronts that surround it, but a step through the door reveals another world. The cadence of Spanish coming from the staff and the televisions, the candle- and rose-studded shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe and a plethora of south-of-the-border tchotchkes blend to make you feel just a little bit warmer.

"That's very unique, and I made it that way [to feel] like you're in a taqueria in Mexico," Luis Marroquin says of his small Columbia Heights eatery, which he opened in August 2005.

The brief menu -- one side in Spanish, the other in English -- includes Mexican staples such as tacos, burritos ($5) and tostadas ($2.50), each offered with several choices of meats. The tacos ($2 each or three for $5), a double layer of soft corn tortillas topped with meat, avocado and thin slices of onion garnished with cilantro and slices of cucumber and radish, are messy but flavorful. Among the meats, the long-simmered goat and beef barbacoas have a smoky sweetness, and the carnitas , shredded pork loin infused with spices, is flash-fried to make it crisp. The spicy chorizo sausage, with its rich paprika flavor, is outstanding.

New to the menu are the tortas ($5), oversized sandwiches stuffed with fried beef or chicken topped with lettuce, tomato, avocado, cheese and crema served on a golden, crusty roll. The meat on the beef torta was a bit tough on a recent visit, but the comforting blend of simple and fresh ingredients -- as well as the pleasantly chewy and salty fried Mexican cheese -- made a few extra chews worthwhile.

Marroquin, 50, hails from El Salvador but resists serving Salvadoran dishes. Instead, he plans to stick with one concept and do it well, hiring Mexican cooks and selling only Mexican products. "Even my Coca-Cola and my Pepsi, they're from Mexico. They taste a little bit different," he says.

The taqueria also serves breakfast, offering huevos rancheros ($5), among other things. Pozole and menudo ($6 each), traditional Mexican soups, are served as specials on weekends.

The food arrives quickly, but it's fun to linger over a cool cup of horchata ($1.75), a cinnamon-spiked rice-milk drink that smacks of rice pudding, to enjoy the festive Mexican tunes and colorful surroundings.

-- Rina Rapuano (May 3, 2006)