El Limeño Restauranton 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 Limeñois 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.
Bigos, a hunter's stew that included chunks of pork, was hearty and flavorful, with a rich broth base, but the Jansen's Temptation -- a layered Swedish dish of potatoes, sour cream and anchovies -- was strangely sweet and not really sufficient as a main course. The crust of the apple strudel was properly flaky, and the just-sweet apples really tasted of the fruit, but it would have been oh-so-much-better if it had been warm.
In contrast to W Domku and El Limeño, Temperance Hall -- which opened in January 2006 -- is mostly a neighborhood bar that also serves food. It's a dark, narrow space, with its ceiling painted black. Chandeliers dripping with crystal prisms, and a large, backlit stained-glass window are the main decorations.
A long bar is in the front of the building, and several steps lead to a larger dining area, with a pool table in the back. The food is mostly bar food -- hot chicken wings, hot dogs, hamburgers and such -- and the simpler dishes are the ones the kitchen does best. Instead of the ubiquitous mini-hamburgers, Temperance Hall had mini-sloppy Joes, and they are a very good version. I'm not fond of the chili -- it's too chunky, and it doesn't always have the best meat, and chickpeas are not the kind of beans I prefer, if any at all.
But the hamburger is the reason to eat at Temperance Hall. It's thick and juicy and tastes of good beef. And the french fries are slightly crisp on the outside but tender on the inside.
W Domku Cafe & Bar, 821 Upshur St. NW, Washington, 202-722-7475. Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Appetizers, $3.50 to $8.50; main courses $6 to $18; breakfast and brunch items, $4 to $10. Accessible to people with disabilities.
Temperance Hall, 3634 Georgia Ave. NW, Washington, 202-722-7669. Hours: 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Sunday (brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Appetizers, $2.50 to $8; main courses, $5 to $14. Not accessible to people with disabilities.