It’s no secret: I am a Mexican food snob. Growing up in Southern California, some of the best Mexican food I ate was in the kitchens of my close friends. And if we were to go out, our Mexican restaurants were solid. When people ask me what I miss most about not living in California anymore, without hesitation I say, “Mexican food.”
D.C. just doesn’t do it the same way. Now there are some hole in the wall spots I have found that are doing it right. But those are few and far between.
When I saw all the hype coming out about Poca Madre, per usual, I was hesitant. Especially because it is more on the upscale side (which is nothing like most of the restaurants in California). But, this year for my New Year’s resolution, I decided to visit one new restaurant per month. Not necessarily new to the area, but new to my attendance. In early January, I decided my first restaurant of the year would be Poca Madre. I made my reservation pretty easily for a few weeks down the road. About a week or so later, Washingtonian released their top restaurants of the year and Poca Madre was featured at #6! Ok, I thought. This better be good.
I had done my usual research which involved perusing the menu several times before my arrival, reading tips from other diners on what to order, etc. I study the menu like there will be a quiz given. And Josh relies on this. Everywhere we go he says, “Ok, so what have you heard about this place? What are they known for?” And I can rattle it off each time. He did this as soon as we arrived at Poca Madre.
Poca Madre is not a large restaurant and it was bustling on the Saturday night of our reservation. The tables are pretty close together and it can be a bit noisy. Probably a better second or third date spot.
Josh ordered a margarita and I ordered the Campeon which is a mix of mezcal, guava, lemon, ginger, fresno chile, laurel, guava-mezcal espuma. The fresno chile was key as it gave the drink a nice kick. It was hands-down one of the best cocktails I have had.
I heard Poca Madre did ceviche quite well so we started with the shrimp and cuttlefish ceviche. It was served in a coconut broth with chorizo and was OUTSTANDING. The shrimp and cuttlefish were cut into ribbons, almost appearing to be noodles, and not a chewy piece in sight. We were practically drinking the broth at the end.
The charred cabbage came highly recommended by our server. It comes with oxtail jam and mole sauce. It’s also served with their homemade (normally flour but we ordered corn) tortillas to make tacos. I was hesitant, but I always say charring gives veggies a whole new life (restaurants don’t do this nearly enough) so, we decided to jump on board. This dish was unbelievable. The oxtail jam was a killer smoky sweet that went perfectly with the charred flavor of the cabbage. You would honestly never know you were eating cabbage. Their handmade blue corn tortillas took me right back to New Mexico and held up perfectly with the taco. There is nothing I hate more than tortillas that fall apart mid-bite leaving you with a taco salad on your plate. (If I wanted salad I would have ordered salad).
The foraged mushroom risotto also came recommended as a nice side. This dish – WOW. I couldn’t stop. It had a great smoky flavor from cooking with the pasilla de Oaxaca, a blend of wild mushrooms and a smooth cheese sauce. Although at $24 I feel this dish is a bit pricey for a “side”, it was large. I would definitely order again.
Our final course was something I had heard a ton of buzz about: Pato al Pastor aka slow roasted duck, pineapple, onions, cilantro and corn tortillas. Now, I will preface this by saying al pastor tacos are one of my most favorite tacos. They are usually made with pork, and I was nervous about the duck. Duck can easily become overcooked and chewy.
When the server brought the dish out he left saying, “Welcome to the greatest taco in D.C.” Wow. Confident! I took my fork into the duck and it instantly fell apart. There was no shredding or knife required. This duck was cooked to absolute perfection in the most delicious al pastor style.
The thing I appreciated most about Poca Madre was the level of flavor. Every dish, from my cocktail to our duck, had incredible flavor and spice. I didn’t feel like anything was too spicy, but oftentimes at Mexican restaurants in this area I feel the dishes have NO spice. That wasn’t the case at Poca Madre at all. I felt I was having an authentic Mexican dinner, with a bit of a fancier spin.
After our meal was over, Josh said, “You knocked it out of the park with this place. This is one of the best restaurants we’ve been to in D.C. in a long time.” No argument from me.