Tag Archives: Mexican

Santa Fe Cafe: Savoring the Flavors of the Land of Enchantment

Your faithful blogger just returned from a delightful holiday vacation in Taos, New Mexico.  Feeling a desperate need for green chile after having consumed it three times a day for a week, she scoured the DC food blogs for a reminder of the 47th state.

 

And that’s how she found the Santa Fe Cafe in Arlington, Virginia, one of the only New Mexican restaurants in the DC metro area (the Anita’s chain is another option for the Virginians out there).  The place was founded in 1988 by Kip Laramie, who was quick to plead modesty by stating that he was “cautious about saying it’s authentic” due to the distinct differences in food and flavors within the state itself.

New Mexican food is best known by the importance placed on both red and green chile sauces.  While other ingredients like posole, blue corn, and sopapillas also make New Mexican cuisine unique, the chile is the star ingredient.  (The fact that a Chile Pepper Institute exists at New Mexico State University should give you a clue as to how devoted New Mexicans are to their prima donna).

Santa Fe Cafe obliges spicy die-hards with entrees featuring either Hatch green chiles or Chimayo red chile sauce, like rellenos, enchiladas, and burritos.  Or, if something else on the menus entices you, a bowl of the soupy mixture comes on the side for just $1 extra.  Vegetarians will be relieved to know that both the green and red chile are meat-free, unlike many establishments that include beef or pork.  Unfortunately, no New Mexican beers are offered at Santa Fe Cafe, but a number of good microbrews and Mexican beers make up the drink list.

It’s good to know that many a native New Mexican has found the place legit—a wall in the entryway features signed headshots of famous New Mexican leaders like Governor Bill Richardson, Senators Tom Udall and Pete Domenici, and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan.  Lujan’s authograph states that the café’s food is “just like mom’s cooking.”

Another great aspect of the restaurant is its emphasis on décor.  Traditional New Mexican ornaments like pottery, ristas (strings of chiles hung to dry), images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and gorgeous rugs line the walls.  San Pasquale, the patron saint of cooking, is also featured prominently.  In particular I appreciated the stuffed armadillo that hangs perilously from an old speaker high above an unsuspecting booth.

DC is a haven for out-of-towners, but sometimes you just need a taste of your home state.  Luckily, Santa Fe Café is here to satisfy the needs of our very own New Mexican diaspora—or at least those of us who hope to return soon.

To visit:  1500 Wilson Ave., Arlington, VA.  703-276-0361. A few blocks from the Rosslyn Metro, Dupont/Georgetown circulator, and 38B bus.  Closed Sundays, and no breakfast/lunch on Saturdays.

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Tacos, Tamales, and a Telenovela

Every now and then I wish I could go back to my homestay days, where you got just a peek into another family’s life.  One of the closest experiences I’ve had to that so far in DC is having dinner at Taqueria Juquilita in Columbia Heights, an establishment that I had heard whispers of but finally figured out how to visit!

Taqueria Juquilita is located in the tiny two-room apartment of a couple originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, and they open their home to gringos and mexicanos alike on Saturdays and Sundays from 7am-7pm.  All of the dishes were very Mexican, from the classic tacos al pastor and tamales to the harder-to-find treats like quesadillas with flor de calabaza (squash blossoms), huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn), and pozole.  Even the refreshments were authentic:  juice made with hibiscus flowers and Coronas!  Señora Rosa, the head of the operation, kept a close eye on us while making all of the tortillas by hand.

Taco con todo

The taqueria only has seats for 10 people along 3 card tables set up in the middle of the room.  Our group took up 6 places, and the remainder were filled by Mexican families and singles looking to get a reminder of their own cities or pueblos.  I especially liked some of the touches that reminded me I was actually in someone’s home– the Virgen de Guadalupe looking down at us, pictures of the children in elementary school, and a very dramatic telenovela set in a hospital blarring on the T.V.  And, not a word of English was spoken to us by our hosts– we all had to dust off the old Repaso Spanish textbooks!  Luckily a few of the other Mexican patrons helped us to deduce the menu and to determine what the best items were to order.

Pozole, a hominy soup

I am almost reluctant to post about Taqueria Juquilita, because I am so happy to have found it!  This little place is truly off the beaten path, and a fantastic glimpse into the lives of two people making a life in Washington, D.C.

To visit:  Taqueria Juquilita, 202-265-0243.

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