The mojito-fueled fun flows at this funky Mexican kitchen.

From June 2006 Cheap Eats

Good, authentic Mexican cooking is so rare in the area that this lovably funky restaurant with sometimes uneven execution and lax service has become a standard-bearer.

Many of Guajillo's charms show up early. The salsa is full of kick and complexity, the chips are fried on the premises, the mojitos are potent, and the bar is stocked with beer imports like Sol and Pacifico. Among the starters, the addictive queso fundido uses manchego, not cheddar, and is studded not with chorizo but with sautéed mushrooms, and the shrimp ceviche, presented in a cocktail glass, is among the best in the area.

The atmosphere on weekends is a rowdy table or two short of rollicking. The conversation flows, one mojito becomes two, and soon your expectations begin to drift along with the painted clouds that appear to be sliding across the blue ceiling.

Thereafter, a bit of the bloom comes off. The profusion of tacos, burritos, and enchiladas could lure you into thinking that these Tex-Mex staples are a strength. They're not–although they surpass the efforts of all but a handful of kitchens in the area. Guajillo is at its best when it mines the rich territory of Mexican regional cooking. Whether it's a luscious, brick-colored mole or a rusticky, wine-braised rabbit with onions (an occasional special) or delicate tamales flecked with bits of corn, there's a surprising depth to the cooking that justifies the excitement.

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.