100 Best Restaurants 2009: Oyamel

No. 64: Oyamel

Cuisine: Mexican regional cooking gets the José Andrés treatment. Translation: playful little plates known as antojitos, full of fire and crunch. House-made salsas and tortillas elevate the experience but not the prices.

Mood: The bar is a favored spot for the in-a-hurry Shakespeare Theatre– and Verizon Center–bound, while the dining room, with its orange nooks and metal butterfly mobiles, draws an eclectic, young crowd.

Best for: Diners who appreciate the differences between regional Mexican cooking and Tex-Mex as well as the before- and after-theater/sports event/concert crowd.

Best dishes: House-made guacamole; short ribs with chili-tomatillo-cilantro mole; tacos of pit-barbecue pork with pickled red onions; grilled skirt steak with green chili sauce; shrimp with a spicy/nutty sauce of pumpkin seeds and serranos; fried potatoes with almond-and-chocolate-spiked mole; warm chocolate cake with Mexican-hot-chocolate froth.

Insider tips: Happy-hour specials—drinks and food—make an ideal repast for diners on the run. Classic margaritas by the pitcher are better and cheaper than top-shelf takes. The novelty grasshopper tacos are just that—you won’t pine for them after the first time.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Inexpensive to moderate.

See all of 2009's 100 Best Restaurant 

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.