News & Politics

Tacos From Oyamel vs. Tacos From La Sirenita

$60 carnitas tacos vs. $20 carnitas tacos.

How would two dishes with the same name but very different price and pedigree stack up against each other? We picked up carnitas tacos at Oyamel, José Andrés's stylized Mexican restaurant in Crystal City, and at La Sirenita, a hole-in-the-wall joint in Riverdale's Little Mexico. To level the playing field, we replated the still-warm tacos and set them out side by side on square white plates. We invited members of the Mexican Embassy to tell us which they preferred.

The result was a virtual dead heat. The panelists liked the sophisticated and the rustic almost equally.

Two of the panelists likened the Oyamel tacos favorably to those they'd eaten in Mexico City. A deputy consul liked the addition of chicharron, crispy shredded pork skin. He also pronounced the tortillas at Oyamel, made by hand and cooked on a comal in the restaurant, "better than the tortillas in Mexico City."

Another panelist raved about the cubes of pork, full of good fatty flavor, in the version from La Sirenita–a close approximation of the street tacos in Mexico City. Some also felt that the thicker tortillas used at La Sirenita had more corn flavor.

Given the choice between these two different but excellent tacos–the choice between eating at a restaurant where the average dinner for two is $60 or where the average dinner for two is $20–the deputy consul smiled and said, "I would go to Little Mexico."

The verdict:

LA SIRENITA 75.75 points

OYAMEL 75.0 points

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.