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The tacos at Spike Mendelsohn’s new Santa Rosa Taqueria are big, bold and saucy

The tacos at Santa Rosa Taqueria, Spike Mendelsohn's latest restaurant. (Holley Simmons/The Washington Post)
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“Top Chef” alum Spike Mendelsohn has a stake in burgers (Good Stuff Eatery), pizza (We, the Pizza) and clandestine cocktails (the Sheppard, a speakeasy). Last week, he added tacos to the list.

Santa Rosa Taqueria is the chef’s latest concept, serving casual Mexican food in the Capitol Hill space formerly occupied by Bearnaise, a defunct steak frites joint.

Nachos, salads and Chipotle-esque “casa bowls” — made with beans, rice, pico de gallo and your choice of meat — are available, though the menu is heaviest on tacos. Choose between flour or corn tortillas, and opt to have yours the “Mexican way,” a topping of radish, onion and cilantro.

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The airy, two-story space can easily cater to large groups, and the $6 margaritas on tap encourage lingering. Bazooka gum-colored walls, tacky plastic tablecloths and a colorful mural screaming “Hola!” create a festive, playful vibe.

So how did the tacos measure up? We’re glad you asked, because we tried every single one of them.

Though the restaurant is still ironing out its menu, the generously sized tacos come in a range of flavors (including a few that will please vegetarians) and deliver bold flavors. Several were overwhelmed by too much sauce, and the fillings were often eclipsed by the large shells; we ripped off the excess tortilla to strike a better ratio.

Still, they’re definitely worth trying if you're in the area, especially since the hefty portions make for a satisfying lunch at three for $10.

Here’s how all the tacos fared.

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Carne Asada

The hunks of steak were tender, delicately seasoned and topped with queso crumbles and crema.

Kale con arroz

A bit on the bland side, this leafy vegetable was almost undetectable. The taco was dominated by its other fillings: rice, roasted tomato salsa and queso.


Though it was dripping with oil, the beef short rib was loaded with fresh flavors, including a five-chili mole, pickled red cabbage and a reasonable amount of crema.

Pulled pork carnitas

Among the favorites, the pulled pork carnitas — made with roasted tomatillo salsa and topped with sliced jalapeños — are worth a try, though ours were so oversaturated with crema that they almost sprung a tortilla leak.

Mexican chorizo and cheese

This was our favorite. The spicy chorizo was tamed by a near-runny fried egg with crispy edges.

Spicy fried shrimp

Despite the name, we didn’t detect much heat on the breaded shrimp. The mole verde did give the dish a delicate and citrusy kick.

Pollo grillado

The juicy chicken breast was drowned with crema, nearly undoing the meat’s proper preparation.

Al pastor

The chunks of pork — topped with a chili orange mole and pineapple salsa — were so tough that we gave up on this one midway.

Roasted baby bellow mushrooms

This fungi-filled taco was the preferable of the vegetarian options, spiced with chili, cumin and paprika and loaded with rice, Jack cheese, guacamole and crema.

315 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-450-4800.

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