By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, September 27, 2007
La Lomita Dos looks like a place to have fun. This Mexican roadhouse restaurant is accented with serapes, Mexican flags and bright red ductwork that runs the length of the dining room. The bar across the back is decorated with strips of mirror providing an unexpected sparkle. Add to all this a mariachi band, which plays every Thursday night, and you've got yourself an instant party.
Situated in a restaurant-rich row on Connecticut Avenue, just south of Chevy Chase Circle in Northwest Washington, La Lomita Dos has been a neighborhood favorite for five years. In the restaurant, an engaging mural of a surreal Washington scene includes Andy Warhol-esque repeat renderings of Marilyn Monroe, as she is pictured at Connecticut and Calvert Street, and a La Lomita Dos delivery truck. The mural was left from the space's previous incarnation as an Italian restaurant; La Lomita Dos added some Mexican touches and the truck.
To clear up any possible confusion, there has been a La Lomita restaurant on Capitol Hill for decades. There also has been a La Lomita Dos restaurant on the Hill for more than a dozen years. The names mean "Little Hill" and "Little Hill II."
The similarly named restaurants are related and not. El Salvador native Victor Amaya was involved in all three locations at one point, but since his death in 2003, his family -- wife, Ranya, and his children, Patricia and Henry -- has limited itself to the two La Lomita Dos restaurants.
Although the family hails from El Salvador rather than Mexico, the restaurant sticks to mostly Mexican and Tex-Mex fare, with the addition at night of specialties from Latin America.
Any meal at La Lomita Dos starts with a basket of crisp, light tortilla chips and a faux-lava bowl filled with fresh salsa, mild with just a hint of cilantro and hot peppers. If you want to spice things up, ask for the homemade green sauce, made from pureed habanera peppers. It's fiery, but not burn-the-top-of-your-mouth hot, with sweet undertones.
La Lomita Dos won its loyal following with attention to details and the use of fresh ingredients. A bowl of tortilla soup is brimming with flavor from the rich chicken broth that forms its base. It is also teeming with chunks of fresh stewed chicken and bits of tomato, celery, onions and green peppers, all topped with cheese and shredded tortillas.
Guacamole has chunks of avocado with bits of onion and tomato and is served with strips of flour tortillas. The quesadillas are huge, large flour tortillas encasing chilies and cheese, served with lettuce, guacamole, fresh pico de gallo and sour cream.
While most Mexican restaurants prefer stewed meats in dishes such as enchiladas, burritos and chile rellenos, and Tex-Mex places usually use ground beef, La Lomita Dos is one of the few places I know of that offer diners a choice of the two for many items. It also offers strips of grilled meats in others.
Nachos, for example, can be ordered with ground beef or as nachos al carbon, with grilled beef. Shredded beef or chicken is the filling for taquitos, crisp rolled tortillas that are served as an appetizer.
Either the shredded meats or ground beef can be chosen for the larger, pan-fried flautas (in this case, rolled flour tortillas stuffed with meat).
I prefer the various fried dishes here, for their distinctive tastes and textures. Although the restaurant offers combination plates at lunch, I think the flavors tend to run together with too much cheese shrouding everything. The chile relleno, for example, is more egg batter than stuffed chile, and the texture of the shredded chicken in the chicken tamale is almost as mushy as the surrounding corn masa.
Fajitas at La Lomita Dos have a Salvadoran flair -- a light, chunky tomato sauce is added to the grilled meat, onions and chilies -- that I don't really like. But the meat is tender and flavorful.
The menu includes the Peruvian favorite lomo saltado (a dish similar to fajitas with french fries), puerco asado (pork roasted in a Spanish-style sauce) and grilled chicken. Ranya Amaya said there are plans to add more Central American dishes to the menu this year.
Save room for the sopapillas -- light puffs of fried dough served with honey -- for dessert.
La Lomita Dos, 5507 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-244-7774. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday; noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. Appetizers, $4.95 to $6.95; main courses $8.95 to $16.95. Accessible to people with disabilities.
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