At the newest Tortilla Coast, nowhere to go but arriba
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012
Before the owners of the Clover Restaurant Group opened shop in Logan Circle, they hit the streets of the neighborhood, asking residents what they wanted. What the respondents desired most, says Katie Tyson, the managing director of the family-run company, was a Mexican restaurant that addressed the basics but whose food also tasted "authentic."
Enter Tortilla Coast, which started serving tamales, tacos and tortas in December. You might be acquainted with the brand: The same-name original, featuring Tex-Mex flavors, has been a fixture on Capitol Hill since 1988. The new restaurant - part of a collection of 10 food establishments, including multiple Cafe Deluxe branches - occupies a former paint store on the corner of 15th and P streets Northwest.
Light pours through banks of windows. Bouncy music sets the mood for margaritas, never mind that it's only noon. Striped booths the size of Packards give even six diners the luxury of space.
Warm tortilla chips, practically light enough to float away from their basket, are quickly dispatched, and a Cadillac margarita, tangy with fresh lime, suggests a bartender who knows his way around tequila. A request for pork tacos is fulfilled by a trio of soft corn tortillas spilling shredded pork that tastes of slow-roasting and is even better for its garnish of shaved pineapple.
Nothing else I've tried at Tortilla Coast has been worth an extra session at the gym. Not the seviche "Acapulco": shrimp, tomato sauce and citrus that leaves a tinny taste in its wake. Not the carne asada, made with skirt steak that hints more of the microwave oven than the grill. "Mama's" enchiladas are a yawn of pulled chicken, sour cream and lettuce. The Mexican rice, meanwhile, smacks mostly of salt. (Water, water!)
I predict a long run for Tortilla Coast, if only because of its prime location and pretty crowd. But take it from me, amigo: Tortilla Coast is to Mexico what Olive Garden is to Italy.
Logan Circle residents have a new option for tortas. The second outpost of Tortilla Coast opened there last week with a selection of tortas on the lunch menu. One option, the Torta de Pollo ($8.95), keeps things traditional with adobo-marinated grilled chicken, black beans, avocado, chipotle mayonnaise and Jack cheese, but two others offer alternate takes.
The Torta Ahogada ($8.95) brightens braised pork and black-bean-whipped mayo with pickled onions and a spicy arbol chili sauce that can be poured over the sandwich or used for dipping. The Torta de Vegetales ($7.95) is an option for the herbivores, filling the telera roll with roasted poblanos, shiitake mushrooms, carmelized onions, avocado, grilled zucchini and a sprinkling of Chihuahua cheese.
-- Justin Rude