1220 19th St. NW (in alley) 293-0515 Hours: Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Prices: Appetizers 65 cents to $ 2.25, entrees $ 3.75-$ 6.75. Cards: None.
In addition to being well dressed, this new southwestern-style carryout is also well-hidden, tucked away in an alley off 19th Street. The Well Dressed Burrito, a spinoff from the people at C.F. Folks, one of downtown's delectable secrets, is even harder to locate than its parent.
It's worth it. And besides, your nose will let you know you've arrived, for the aromas of peppers and onions and corn waft through the side door of the anonymous brick building that houses this tiny gem.
Inside is a room painted in desert hues of beige and emerald green, decorated attractively with cacti on the counter and pinatas on the floor. There are no chairs and no tables, but the staff behind the counter makes waiting for your order something to relish. "Have you tried the soup today?" an exuberant woman inquired at lunch recently, handing me a cup of peppery black bean soup.
This, you may think, is the Mexican carryout of your dreams.
Presentation is an art at the Well Dressed Burrito, which manages to make its avocado salad, creamy black beans and saffron-colored rice look like rustic still lifes despite their being in plastic containers. (Other nice touches: the sturdy plastic eating utensils and thick paper napkins that accompany each order.)
The eating is every bit as appealing. The short menu focuses on tacos, burritos, chili and a few meat dishes such as the "scorpion steak," a grilled rib eye, unevenly cooked but well-seasoned and buried beneath alternating layers of teasingly hot chili paste and cool, smooth guacamole.
While the selections sound standard, the execution is not. Freshness is key: The burritos are top-notch, the wrappers delicious, the fillings ranging from a terrific vegetarian to plain cheese and chorizo, dressed with a homey tomato sauce.
The chili might feature beef, pork, venison, goat, lamb or wild boar. I had a chance to sample the lamb chili, a savory and filling meal of ground lamb set on rice and showered with scallions and fresh cilantro. The corn tortillas, about as flavorful as they come, taste homemade, and the sauces range from a smooth and mild salsa verde (made from tomatillos and onions) to a dark, chunky and pungent salsa "folks," fiery with a combination of chilies yet balanced by the addition of pumpkin seeds and a whisper of chocolate.
The slips are few. There's a tendency to undercook (the chicken breast baked with fruit and almonds was a bit on the pink side, though the topping was delicious) and the jalapeno cornbread was a bit gummy. And one day, the Mexican soup, chock-full of vegetables, had all the character of warm water. But these are easily corrected flaws.
Save room for the cinnamon- and raisin-infused Mexican bread pudding, one of the best I've had anywhere, and the key lime pie with its tart-like crust and citrus taste.
The Well Dressed Burrito, a much appreciated addition to the existing supply of Mexican haunts, makes clear the difference between acceptable and exciting.Tom Sietsema is on the staff of The Washington Post food section.