Brother and sister Alfredo and Jessica Solis should be on your radar—and not just because Washingtonians are slightly obsessed with their Mexican cooking at El Sol in Shaw and Mezcalero Cocina Mexicana in Columbia Heights. Consider this: The sibs plan to open a second location of El Sol in Vienna’s Cedar Park plaza any day now, with Jessica helming the kitchen that will serve up tortillas made with house-ground blue corn.
But having one of their popular taquerias nearby doesn’t let you off the hook for a field trip to Anafre, the duo’s ode to coastal Mexican cuisines that opened two doors down from Mezcalero in Columbia Heights last November. There’s hardly any crossover in dishes, and you’d be seriously missing out on Alfredo’s seafood expertise honed at the now-closed-but-once-beloved DC Coast.
Spanning several seaside regions from Baja to Acapulco to the Yucatán Peninsula, the inspiration migrates with satisfying results. Start with perfectly fried calamari—crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, seasoned just right and accented with spicy rings of fresh red chiles, cabbage and zigzags of two sauces (one is an aioli packed with fresno peppers and lemon, the other a Valentina aioli) that add to the party. And while I skipped them this time—because hey, you have to draw the line somewhere—I’ve ordered the oysters al carbon with jalapeño butter at both of the pair’s other restaurants and can heartily recommend them.
Lobster fans won’t want to miss the Puerto Nuevo-style langosta. It’s a showstopper; the whole lobster is grilled and presented split in half to reveal milk-white meat bathing in jalapeño butter served with rice, way-better-than-average beans and soft flour tortillas. Also recalling trips to the seaside, the fried tilapia taco wrapped in a flour tortilla and adorned with purple cabbage, pico, avocado and a creamy sauce is everything you want in a Baja fish taco.
The kitchen has more tricks up its sleeve than seafood, however. A massive, tender pork shank cooked for 12 hours and sauced with an incredible salsa morita that cuts right through the richness will have you exclaiming first at its size, then at its price ($15!) and again at its excellent flavor. And don’t sleep on the humble-sounding papas con rajas taco, a decadent blend of potatoes, poblano peppers, caramelized onion, crema and cheese that somehow all adds up to taste like someone stuffed a serving of pommes Anna into a blue corn tortilla.
Desserts include a bread pudding with caramel and a coffee flan, but our table was completely happy with another round of excellent cocktails to close out the meal, including a riff on an Old-Fashioned that gains incredible depth from a judicious amount of house mole added to the blend.
You might as well live it up since you’re on vacation—at least until you walk back out the door, where a bustling DC inevitably awaits.
The cool, brightly hued interior of Little Havana has been replaced by warm, terracotta-colored walls and a cozy vibe that feels like a cross between a speakeasy and a church thanks to broody lighting, a large crucifix and a depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Chicharron preparado, aka fried calamari; oysters al carbon; 12-hour pork shank with salsa morita; grilled whole lobster; papas con rajas taco. // 3704 14th St. NW, Washington, DC; Open daily for lunch and dinner; Starters: $9-$15; Entrees: $12-$25
New York restaurateur (and man behind Shake Shack) Danny Meyer opened seafood-focused Italian Maialino Mare in the new Thompson Hotel. // 221 Tingey St. SE,
Former White House chef Frank Ruta, who also owned the much-loved Palena, is in the kitchen cooking upscale American at newly minted Annabelle. // 2132 Florida Ave., Washington, DC
The team behind Michelin-starred Tail Up Goat debuted a low-key wine and pasta spot dubbed Reveler’s Hour around the corner from the original. // 1775 Columbia Road NW, Washington, DC
This post originally appeared in our March 2020 print issue. For more restaurant features, subscribe to our weekly Food newsletter.