When it comes to restaurants, Northern Virginia excels at many things. Whether it’s hard-to-find cuisines, compelling classics or unique concepts, I’m very well covered. One thing that we haven’t really gotten the hang of yet: upscale Mexican. At least that was what I thought until I visited Cocina on Market.
At the stylish Leesburg restaurant, I was wowed by the farm-fresh fare. That’s no surprise—Cocina is part of the restaurant group that also includes Market Table Bistro and Market Burger in Lovettsville and Purcellville, respectively. They’re all supplied by executive chef Jason Lage’s own Fairbrook Farm in Lovettsville, as well as other local purveyors. Not surprisingly, it’s easy to taste the difference.
Case in point? When the queso arrived, my dining companion commented, “This is not plastic cheese.” Not only was it a blend of real, stretchy curds, ours was flavored with mushrooms and a deep, rich sauce from “Mole Maestro” Tobias Padovano. The queso, also available plain or with chorizo, came with soft, homemade corn tortillas and warm chips.
But that appetizer wasn’t even the highlight. That distinction belongs to a special ceviche of ahi tuna inspired by a trip to the farm that reaped watermelon that not only made it into margaritas, but provided skinny strips of pickled rind to flavor the fresh fish. Basil also lit up the the juicy, tangy fish, while a swipe of sauce on the side came from creamy avocados. Circles of sauce made from guajillos and chipotles lent a smoky burn to the proceedings.
Tacos are small at Cocina, but after an appetizer onslaught like that, two orders were enough for us. The menu is inspired by Oaxaca, Puebla (the reasons for the moles) and Veracruz, but the fried chicken taco is pure Virginia terroir. Sweet corn salsa, covered in a chiffonade of basil, was unmistakably fresh from the earth. It was a Southern feast packed into a pair of tortillas. The carnitas taco was more classic, with favorably fatty pork dressed in bright salsa verde and pink pickled onions, then crowned with a crispy chicharrón.
Our server said that the churros might be “the best in Leesburg, Loudoun or Virginia.” I haven’t eaten my way through all of Virginia’s churros yet, but I would definitely say they are the best in Leesburg and probably Loudoun. Crisp on the outside and doughy on the inside, they’re presented on a plate covered in warm, spiced chocolate sauce, ready for dipping. They, and the dishes that preceded them, are definitely worth exploring from anywhere in Leesburg, Loudoun or, indeed, anywhere in Virginia. // 7 W. Market St., Leesburg
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