Tico: Two Texture Beef Tacos

Tico Tacos

Michael Schlow’s in town. Perhaps you saw him making the short trek from his Columbia Heights pad to his brand new 14th Street restaurant that opened last night. You might recognize him from Top Chef Masters! What’s heartwarming is that unlike some celebrity chefs who pop in to open a restaurant, Schlow’s committed to staying around for more than a hot sec…and it shows.

This is the second Tico to open its doors – the first is in Schlow’s hometown of Boston – but he’s tweaked the menu to match our tastes, like by sprinkling in some Old Bay when appropriate. Overall, the restaurant aims to serve American food with Latin/Spanish twists inspired by Schlow’s travels.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Two Texture Beef Tacos are a lot of fun. Super tender beef is juxtaposed by crispy beef that’s been dehydrated, not fried, and chili and fresh herbs kick up the flavor. Schlow says he pays just as much attention to texture as he does flavor. Look for something soft and chewy to be balanced by crunch in almost every dish.

Manchego

… Like these manchego fritters, which you dip in a sticky, fruity sauce on the side. This dish is symbolic of how vegetarians can go buck wild at Tico, because a large portion of the menu celebrates seasonal vegetables, and they’re used quite creatively. A standout is an order of edamame falafel tacos. Click here for more photos from the meal.

We couldn’t be happier about this addition to the neighborhood. They’ve thought of everything. The artwork lining the walls is the work of Schlow’s wife; Schlow himself built all the music playlists; and Schlow committed a whole lot of resources (read: cash money) to build an acoustically sound dining room to make sure you can still hear your dining partners in a lively atmosphere. The guy literally had someone poke thousands of holes in tin tiles to ensure that sound would get trapped instead of bouncing right back down to disturb diners. Cheers to that.

Two texture beef tacos not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Agua 301: Pork Belly al Pastor

Agua 301 Pork Belly Taco

If Hawaii and Mexico had a baby, a perfect baby, it would be this taco. The Best Thing on the Menu at Agua 301 is undoubtedly: Pork Belly al Pastor. Three succulent tacos filled with crispy fried pork belly, pineapple habanero salsa, al pastor aioli, salsa de arbol arrive at your table glistening with an entrancing glaze.

As if the world’s most perfect protein needed any help…Chef Antonio Burrell lightly breads and fries the belly, which has already been slow-cooked to optimal tenderness. The pineapple habanero salsa is what transports you directly to a Hawaiian luau, where the pig of the party is cooked underground to an equal level of deliciousness. Hopefully by men in ridiculous outfits.

Berry Mezcal Cocktail

If picking the right margarita has always been a problem for you, we’re here to help. The Humo en el Agua (translation Smoke on the Water) is the right choice. This pomegranate margarita made with Fidencio Classico, Pama Liqueur, pomegranate juice, and fresh squeezed lime juice. Fidencio Classico is key because it’s mezcal, and thus delivers smoke. Typically mezcal is paired with citrus fruits, but here’s hoping that the smoke and berry combination is a new trend. Mezcal is one of my favorite things right now, with its notes of beef jerky and peat. Fair warning though, mezcal is a gateway drug to scotch because once you go smoky, toasty, roasty  – you never go back.

Apple Pie Empanadas

Finish the evening at Agua 301 with Chef Burrell’s apple empanadas. They’re stuffed with his mother’s good old-fashioned apple pie recipe. You’ll undoubtedly be choosing between these and the churros. Choose these.

All and all the tacos and the guacamoles (with bacon!) steal the show at this new spot in the Navy Yard. They outshine the entrees and will be perfect before or after a Nats game come spring. Click here for more photos.

Pork Belly al Pastor not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Oyamel: Breakfast for Dinner

Oyamel Fried Egg

Oyamel could be the underdog when it comes to ranking Jose Andres’ restaurants in DC.  Jaleo behaves as the flagship of the operation, minibar is elusive and mysterious and Zaytinya continues to produce memorable meals time after time.  It turns out that unassuming Oyamel is underrated. Sure, the butterfly decor is a little like a science museum, and the clientele seems to be mostly tourists. But, as is always the case with Best Thing on the Menu, it’s the food that counts.

A while back we double ordered the Best Thing on the Menu at Kapnos. Well, we had another repeat BTM order at Oyamel, and this time it was breakfast for dinner. The Best Thing on the Menu is most certainly Huevos Enfrijolados. This dish is composed of a fried organic egg with black bean sauce, house made chorizo, salsa verde and a corn tortilla. This brunch munch is perfectly balanced and delicately composed. We didn’t even know you could fry an egg like that.

Oyamel also knocks it out of the park when it comes to tacos. At most DC taco haunts you pick your protein: beef, pork, chicken or fish. But at Oyamel, there are four different types of pork tacos alone, plus adventurous folks can try Chapulines (grasshoppers!) an Oaxacan classic. Learn more about them here.

Don’t rule out Oyamel next time you’re in Penn Quarter. It’s a little easier to get a table, the food comes out fast and fresh and you can order two of anything.

Huevos Enfrijolados not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Best Thing at the Market: TaKorean Bulgogi Beef Tacos

TaKorean Bulgogi Beef Tacos

The reimagined Union Market is a hipster oasis amidst otherwise gloomy, industrial surroundings. If you haven’t made the trip to NE, now’s the time. BTM recommends making a morning of it by renting bikes from Capital Bikeshare and heading over for a feast, corn hole and some outdoor adult beverages.

Though the outside of Union Market resembles a Home Depot with its white and orange color scheme, the inside is polished, vast and has a very Brooklyn vibe. Developers imagine a day when the surrounding area will feature “a vibrant mix of retail, restaurants, hotel, entertainment, incubator space for new food concepts,” and more.

The Best Thing at the Market: TaKorean Bulgogi Beef Tacos pack in the flavor, fusion and fun. Korean BBQ tacos have finally made their way east after many successful decades on the West Coast. DC native Mike Lenard’s TaKorean opened its food truck windows back in 2010. They offer bulgogi beef, tangy chicken and caramelized tofu tacos with two kinds of slaw, cool lime crème, sriracha, fresh cilantro and sesame seeds on corn tortillas. Their tortillas are impossibly warm and fresh, which propelled TaKorean past other contenders for Best Thing at the Market accolades.

TaKorean’s popularity prompted them to open a non-mobile shop out of Union Market. Several other food trucks have also set up shop at the market, allowing them to expand their offerings and bring in some cash over the weekend when food trucks would otherwise be dormant.  You can mix and match tacos and toppings for a great meal on the go or at the market.

Also available at Union Market – Buffalo and Bergen, Curbside Cupcakes, DC Empanadas, Red Apron Butchery, Righteous Cheese and more.

Bulgogi Beef Tacos not your Best Thing at the Market? Post your favorites in the comments section.