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Great South American or Mexican in downtown DC?

Hi there, I'm heading to DC next week on business. Would love some recommendations on where to go for great South American or Mexican food in the downtown area (I'm staying near Mt. Vernon Square in the Penn Quarter District). Won't have a car but am willing to cab it anywhere! Also, would love some suggestions of where to get great crab cakes (that isn't too far away).

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  1. For Mexican, I think you are out of luck. For Salvadorean, El Rinconcito or Tortilla Cafe are good -- "great", maybe not.

    1. You could brave the often salty menu at Oyamel. Definitely go for the ceviche with passionfruit. After that, the chile en nogada is a seasonal specialty. Used to be great, but I don't know how it has fared recently.

      In Adams Morgan, not 'downtown'. Casa Oaxaca has really good enmolados.

      I highly recommend the carne deshilada at El Rinconcito. the tamales and papusas are also good Everything else is only ok, but this is nether Mexican or South American.

      Mio's is Puerto Rican and generally pan-Latin. Elegant place. Really good arepas and fish. They have a special Friday night PR menu (7 -9pm), but I have not tried it.

      There are other options, I suppose, but not worth a cab ride.

      1. I'm a big fan of Oyamel for mexican. I know there are a few on here that repeatedly say it is salty. I have on rare occasions had a dish that is too salty - I think it's mostly if you eat too many of their chips. The tuna/pecan ceviche is great, as is the carnitas taco (which chicaronnes on top), roasted brussel sprout dish, and a dish with green salasa and homemade tortillas with cheese ( can't recall the name).
        Also, in a somewhat similar vein to your request is Ceiba, which is a Latin American restaurant. They're best know for their fejoada (sp?) which is fabulous. Have not tried much else there though.

        4 Replies
        1. re: erinnf

          Thanks for the suggestions everyone.... we're from Toronto and it's the one cuisine we don't have a lot of up here (and are always on the hunt for when we cross the border!). One of my colleagues is determined to find the best crab cake in DC... and recommendations?

          1. re: fanaticfoodie

            My standard-bearer is the broiled version at Oohs and Aahs.

            1. re: fanaticfoodie

              DC Coast or Blacksalt if on either menu at the moment would be a good choice for a crabcake.

              1. re: fanaticfoodie

                Blue crab season runs from April to December, so what you'll get is canned SE Asian crabmeat. My favorite is at Sullivan's Seafood, but they seem to have closed. My second current favorite is Jimmy's Grill at the Maine Avenue Fish Market.

            2. El Chalan is pretty good Peruvian food, on I St. between 19th & 20th. 20 minute walk from you or a very short cab ride.

              1. Although not really Mexican, since you're staying nearby, you should not miss the pork cheek nachos (or the shredded duck lettuce wraps or homemade kimchee hot dog at The Passenger. They also have fantastic cocktails. Don't be put off by the divey atmosphere. The food is good (except for the shrimp tacos, which are just OK).

                1. I'm a fan of the "Grill from Ipanema" in Adams Morgan. It may not be the best Brazilian food you'll have anywhere, but it is quite good - and especially worth a stop if you live somewhere where it's hard to find southern cuisines. In particular I highly recommend the seafood paella and the chiaparinhas.

                  1. With regards to good Mexican food, three restaurants in DC routinely come up: Oyamel, Casa Oaxaca, and El Centro DF. I actually haven't tried the first two, but I have enjoyed El Centro DF, which is cheaper than the other two as well. Just avoid it when it's crowded as I understand the service is still getting its act together (I've only been when it's practically empty).

                    1. It you are willing to travel further afield (i.e., a cab or metro ride), then Taqueria Distrito Federal (different from the one emcentar posted about) and Taqueria Nacional are both good. I've only tried Distrito Federal, but both get very positive reviews for their tacos, which are more traditional than some of the places mentioned previously (such as Oyamel, which are OK but lacking some of the delicious toppings and traditional meat preparations...they're more like fusion food).

                      1. i just heard from a Cuban friend that Cuba Libre in Penn Q is outstanding...really authentic...and i think it would meet your criteria even though it is neither mexican nor south american...and it's right in the area you are staying in!

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: DCDOLL

                          Oooh...thanks for this - I've walked by it a thousand times and keep thinking I should check it out. Good to know.

                          1. re: emcentar

                            I guess I shouldn't comment since I haven't eaten there myself, but I hear only really mediocre things about the food there. I went in once for drinks and apps and was put off by the really slow service at the bar and the high cocktail prices. If you do try it, emcentar, please let us know what you think.

                            1. re: ChristinaMason

                              Well, that's not unlike actually traveling to Cuba :)

                          2. re: DCDOLL

                            I went to Cuba Libre several months ago. I found the food just average and the prices fairly high for what you got. I so wanted to love the place, as I love Cuban food, but.... meh.

                            1. re: sara11

                              Thanks so much for the great suggestions, everyone!! Much appreciated.