This originally ran last year. Since my first trip to Oyamel it’s becoming one of my favorite DC restaurants. I hope to be back there soon.
Oyamel, Cocina Mexicana is a Mexican restaurant in North West Washington, D.C. What a great place this was to be on Halloween. It was definitely a treat and not a trick. Although, I still am not sure how they make that salt foam to top their Margaritas I still want to go back and try to figure it out.
When you arrive the first thing you notice are the deep orange walls and the Oaxacan art scattered all around the restaurant. I find it spectacular. It states right up front you’re in for a Mexican treat.
Oyamel serves mostly Antojitos or little dishes from the streets. I love going to restaurants that serves little dishes. It gives you an opportunity to try many different dishes and while having more control on how much food you want to eat. Oyamel is owned by Jose Andres’ Thinkfood group of restaurants.
I’ve eaten at Jaleo (read my review) which specializes in Spanish Tapas and Cafe Atlantico which serves Nuevo Latino cuisine. Also in this group is minibar which is a six seat restaurant within Cafe Atlantico with it’s own chefs. They offer 25-30 small plates. They have two seatings a night and you must have a reservation. Zaytinya serves mezza or small plates of the Eastern Mediterranean- Greek, Turkish and Lebanese cuisine. So far I’ve had great experiences at 3 out of the 5 restaurants in this group. I will start off the new year visiting the other two restaurants.
Jose Andres creates imaginative menus that use whole ingredients and layers of flavors. This makes it easier to have items cooked both gluten and dairy free. Oyamel has a gluten free menu and a dairy free menu. This means they list all of their dishes that are gluten or dairy free as prepared but on separate menus. I wish they would also create a menu that shows what is both gluten and dairy free. I always print the menu before I go to the restaurant and check things that I am interested in. When they give me both menus I then note on the menu I brought which is gluten free and then which is dairy free. Then I find the items that have both notations and I choose from there. Jose, if you are reading this please make a combo menu, please! But please don’t change up the great job your restaurants do at feeding me wonderful food that is safe for me to eat.
The first thing we ordered upon sitting down, was their signature Margarita. I asked for salt and when it arrived I was perplexed. Our waitress Ivana promised there was salt. I took a sip and she was right. The foam on top was salty. These Margaritas were so good I had two. Can’t even remember the last time I thought a Margarita was good enough to have another. Warning, this may give you the nerve to try cactus, beef tongue tacos and grasshopper tacos. Read on to see which ones we tried.
We then received a bowl of their smokey chipotle salsa but since they cook their tortilla chips in oil where gluten containing food is cooked, they brought us their fresh made corn tortillas. This would be my second request for the restaurant. Even if they made a batch of chips in the oven for us it would be nice to have the crunch with the salsa. However, the tortillas were delicious.
We both started with ceviches:
Ceviche De Huachinango–Red snapper with avocado in salsa mexicana of tomato, sweet onion, cilantro and lime juice.
Ceviche Verde “El Bajio”-Wahoo with avocado, green olives and jalapeño chilies.
Next came an assortment of antojitos, vegetables and tacos. They are served as soon as they were ready from the kitchen. It’s like a party just for you and they bring it right to your table. We ordered the following:
Codorniz con sikil p’ak – Grilled quail with a traditional Mayan sauce of toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro, tomato and habanero chile, and filled with a cactus salad.
Tamal Verde– Tamal with green sauce of tomatillo, shredded chicken breast, chili, garlic and cilantro.
Mejillones al tequila con chipotle – Steamed mussels with tequila, sauteed garlic and chipotle sauce.
Tacos de Cochinita pibil con cebolla en escabeche – Yucatan-style pit barbecued pork with pickled red onion and Mexican sour orange.
Taco de Tinga poblana– Stew of shredded chicken with potatoes, chorizo, and chipotle, topped with white onion.
Tacos de Lengua Guisada – Braised beef tongue with radishes and a sauce of roasted pasilla chili, tomatoes, onion and garlic.
Nopal asado con Salsa Molcajete – Grilled fresh cactus paddles served with a salsa molcajete of grilled tomatoes, tomatillos, green onions, cilantro and green onions.
Arroz de Huitlacoche con queso fresco – Rice sauteed with black Mexican corn truffles, queso fersco cheese and epazote herb oil.
My favorite dishes were the ceviches, pork tacos and tamal. The beef tongue taco was very tender and flavorful and I enjoyed that much more than I thought I would. I’ve watched Guy Fieri eat beef tongue on his show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives so often and he always had a strange look on his face but then would say how flavorful and tender it was. So this was Guy’s fault that I tried it. Glad I did. Not sure if I’ll try the grasshopper tacos but you never know.
There were still many items on the menu I wanted to try (how often do you get to say that about eating out gluten and dairy free) but I couldn’t eat another bite. We were stuffed. This of course means we will need to go back. Actually we’re going to take my in-laws there for dinner on their visit this month. I hope they enjoy it as much as we did.
One more story about the restaurant.
I am always intrigued with why people choose a particular name for their restaurant. Well this is such an interesting story that I’m going to share it directly from their website.
“Every autumn, an amazing migration takes place: millions of monarch butterflies leave behind their homes in the eastern United States and Canada and journey south to spend the winter in the forests of Michoacan in the volcanic highlands of central Mexico.
After their 3000 mile journey, the butterflies seek the shelter of the oyamel, abies religiosa. This rare type of fir tree, found primarily on a few mountain tops between 7,900 and 12,000 feet, offers these fragile travellers a sanctuary, protection from the threats posed by extreme temperatures, predators, and rain and snow.
The tree called oyametl in the Náhuatl tongue of the people who lived there has always been special: the ancient Toltecs burned the wood of the oyamel as incense in their religious ceremonies and later Christian visitors noted the cross shaped tips of its branches.
Draped in gold, its branches bent with the weight of thousands of butterflies, the otherworldly shhh created by the flapping of the monarchs’ wings, the oyamel forests in the winter are a place like no other.
At Oyamel, we serve our tortillas in baskets woven from the needles of the oyamel fir tree. It’s our way of bringing a little bit of the forest to you.”
Disclaimer: The reviews I post are my opinion and based on my experience. Just because I have a certain experience does not insure you will have the same experience. I cannot guarantee any meal anywhere, except in my own kitchen. Please eat out at your own risk.
thanks for this review- they’ve been on my list of restaurants to visit for a while! definitely looks like i’ll be able to eat there gf and dairy free! 🙂
I am a huge fan of Oyamel, and like you, totally wish they had a combo menu for those of us who avoid both dairy and gluten. I also avoid chicken eggs, so have to ask to ask for a third menu too. That said, it is so worth it 🙂