For Washingtonians craving authentic Mexican food, the local scene is short on the kind of rustic, earthy stuff a corn-loving Aztec would call good eats. Enter Tacos Pepitos Bakery II.
"In this area, I see a lot of places that say they have Mexican food but it's not really Mexican food," says Pepitos owner Joe Molina, 39, a native of Mexico City. "This is our interpretation of the authentic Mexican food where I come from."
His tiny Adams Morgan carryout recalls the simple fondas, or food stalls, of the typical Mexican marketplace. The menu is neither "Tex," nor your average joint masquerading as Mexican.
Along with chicken and other familiar fillings for tacos ($2.50) for instance, are lengua, or beef tongue, cabeza, or steamed beef head meat, and cochinita pibil, or roast pork. Pozole, the classic Mexican soup of pork, chili peppers and whole hominy ($7.50), is sold on weekends only. So is menudo ($7.50), a thick hominy-based soup with beef tripe and chunks of fatty pig knuckle that serves as a preferred hangover remedy. The culinarily rich province of Oaxaca is represented by a tamale ($3.50) infused with chocolate mole sauce and steamed inside a banana leaf. Tlacoyos ($3) is a barely firm kind of cornmeal flapjack filled with refried beans and garnished with queso fresco, or fresh cheese, and nopales, or cooked cactus leaves. The quesadilla Mexicana ($5.50) consists of a big, crepelike tortilla oozing creamy huitlacoche, the off-sounding but delectable corn fungus.
You can wash any of these down with horchata, a kind of cornmeal milkshake ($2) or a passion fruit maracuya (also $2). And as if there could possibly be room for dessert, a huge slice of bread pudding goes for $2.
Molina said he never cooked before leaving Mexico as a teenager 20 years ago. He cut his teeth as a restaurant dishwasher, eventually cooking at a number of restaurants. He opened the first Tacos Pepitos in Gaithersburg four years ago. The Adams Morgan location followed a year ago. He plans to open a 90-seat restaurant in Gaithersburg in coming weeks and says a buffet for several hundred in Rockville is in his future.
"It's hard work," Molina said. "But I think we have the systems and the recipes to make it all work."
Tacos Pepitos Bakery II, 1762 Columbia Rd. NW, 202-232-7121; open Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
-- Ed Bruske
Ed Bruske last wrote for Food about pho, Vietnam's favorite soup.