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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Upmarket restaurant

Sun–Mon 11:30am–10:00pm
Tue–Thu 11:30am–11:30pm
Fri–Sat 11:30am–midnight

Features Date-friendly, kid-friendly, outdoor dining
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted


Penn Quarter
401 7th St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 628-1005
Sexy Mexican with some upmarket twists

With hyped-up pedigree (José Andrés) and the promise of unusual authenticity, Oyamel breathes with excitement—and not just because the concept is generally being evaluated by margarita-lubricated neural pathways. The space almost always feels colorful and lively, modern but not pretentious, equally suited to a liquid brunch or a classy dinner date.

More importantly, the eyes of anyone who’s traveled in Mexico (and we’re not talking Cancún spring-breakers) will light up at the sight of the menu. It dances across the country, starting in the Bajío, with sopa tarasca estilo Pátzcuaro (a satisfying black bean soup) and ending on the coast, with myriad of ceviches and huachinango a la veracruzana (red snapper with tomatoes, onions, capers, and olives), with plenty of Oaxacan moles along the way. And, of course, there’s the apocryphal “Ensalada Alex-Cesar Cardini” to tie everything together.

But, as anyone who’s traveled in Mexico knows, the best food is generally had on the street, at a roadside parador, or anywhere that you see locals. It’s rarely found at the pricey places. True to that theory, the food here is a bit less exciting on the palate that its promise on the menu. But it’s a really fun place nonetheless, and there are some standout items on the menu. “Gaspacho” estilo Morelia (not the Spanish tomato purée you might be expecting) is a salad whose mix of jicama, jalapeños, mango, cucumber, and orange is rather refreshing. Papas al mole might as well be served in a ballpark—presentation is sub-par (especially when compared to some of the pretty platings you see with other dishes)—but it’s hard to argue with potatoes smothered in black mole, cream, and cheese. Tacos check out better on paper than on the plate; cochinita pibil comes out a bit dry, but the accompanying escabeche is a lovely counterpoint. Chapulines (grasshoppers—a very popular snack in the state of Oaxaca) come with shallots, and are a bit soggy, but a dab of guacamole helps them along.

It’s the drinks that really shine. The “Oyamel Margarita” is a careful blend (made, admittedly, with Cuervo) topped with “salt air,” a foamy essence—and José Andrés show-thing (we won’t use the cringe-worthy word “signature”)—that’s a far superior delivery mechanism for savory balance than big chunks of salt.

Try ordering one of those at a street cart.

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