New Restaurants Help Revitalize Petworth Neighborhood

El Limeño Restaurant's overfilled tacos with beef, chicken and shrimp wrapped in soft corn tortillas.
El Limeño Restaurant's overfilled tacos with beef, chicken and shrimp wrapped in soft corn tortillas. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, February 22, 2007

E l Limeño Restaurant on Upshur Street NW is the latest addition to a growing group of restaurants, including W Domku, a few blocks down Upshur, and Temperance Hall, south of the Georgia Avenue Metro station, that are attracting a younger crowd to the Petworth neighborhood.

The story behind El Limeño is one of perseverance and tenacity. Husband-and-wife owners Roger and Evelyn Marquez got a business license to open their sunny cantina of a restaurant two years ago. But the space they planned to occupy, at Second and Upshur streets, had been home to a famously rowdy lounge and dance hall, and some neighbors did not want any new business there that would serve alcohol.

For two years, the couple worked their way through the neighborhood opposition -- as Roger Marquez continued to work at La Tomate in the Dupont Circle area -- until the restaurant finally opened late last month.

Located opposite the U.S. Armed Forces Retirement Home, also known as Soldiers' Home, El Limeño is named in honor of Evelyn Marquez's hometown in El Salvador, Santa Rosa de Lima. The word "lima" can also be translated as lemon, so the Marquezes have embraced the citrus fruit in their restaurant's decor.

A painting of lemons hangs just inside the entrance, and a drawing of a chef carrying a large lemon adorns the printed menu, which includes both Mexican and Latin American favorites.

There is a large bar across the rear of El Limeño, but Marquez said the emphasis is on dining. Black upholstered chairs surround tables featuring white tablecloths over black-and-white checkered cloths. The walls are wainscoted, with light wood below and a clear Caribbean blue above. A variety of chandeliers hang from the ceiling, several in wrought iron-fashioned flowers.

The menu of about 30 items has mostly Latin American dishes now, but Roger Marquez said it will expand to include more Mexican favorites as the business grows.

Any meal begins with a basket of warm tortilla chips and a small dish of mild salsa. Pupusas are a popular appetizer and are served with the customary Salvadoran cabbage salad (curtido). Other appetizers include nachos, fried calamari, garlic shrimp, quesadillas and ceviche.

Tacos al Limeño are available with beef, chicken or shrimp and are served Mexican-style, with two soft corn tortillas wrapping the filling. The chicken tacos were filed with chunks of juicy, grilled chicken, tomato relish (pico de gallo) and a slice of perfectly ripe avocado. These tacos are so overfilled, it is more practical to eat them with a knife and fork.

W Domku Cafe & Bar, which mixes Polish and Scandinavian fare on its menu, opened in January 2005. The space is informal; its combination dining room and lounge is filled with mismatched tables and chairs and sofas with a mid-century (almost) flair.

A two-tiered crystal chandelier hangs over the bar area -- the most formal part of the space -- and there is a handsome wood floor behind the bar where there also is a pool table. Otherwise, the floors are concrete.

On a cold Friday night, the restaurant was filled with young professionals and by 8:30 p.m., the kitchen had run out of two Polish favorites -- potato and cheese dumplings (pierogi) and kielbasa and sauerkraut. A cup of pea soup was warm and comforting, but the more interesting appetizer was a beet salad, with bits of blue cheese, walnuts and mixed greens.

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