Oaxacan flavors and the vibrant style of Mexico City come together at Urbano 116, Alexandria’s newest Mexican restaurant. Behind the opening are chef Alam Méndez Florián of smoked-fueled Oaxacan spot Pasillo de Humo (located in Mexico City’s Mercado Parian food hall), and Common Plate Hospitality’s Chad Sparrow (Mason Social, Catch on the Ave). The 160-seat space is serving up traditional dishes in an urban-industrial setting inspired by lucha libre wrestling.
Besides his own restaurant, Méndez Florián has spent time cooking in Michelin-starred kitchens and at the Noma pop-up in Tulum. His mother, Celia Florián, is nicknamed the “mother of mole” in Oaxaca. Her 26-year-old restaurant was a fixture of Méndez Florián’s early childhood, and his affection for food came from helping her make the 32-ingredient black mole and hand-ground corn tortillas. It was a taste of the latter that drew in Sparrow, who traveled to Mexico City in 2018 for restaurant research. “A lightbulb went off,” he says of his experience tasting Méndez Florián’s tortillas. After the meal, he was determined to convince the chef to visit Washington and train his staff in Mexican cooking techniques. Even better—Méndez Florián ultimately decided to partner with Sparrow on the Washington restaurant, and split time between the two capital cities.
The menu runs familiar (eight styles of tacos) to daring (fried grasshoppers, fiery habanero ash sauce). Moles are prevalent throughout, whether a cauliflower taco with almond mole, or red and black moles based on recipes from Méndez Florián’s mother. Black mole, known as the “king of the moles,” is made using a two-day process that’s often reserved for special occasions like holidays or weddings. Here you’ll find it on the daily menu in dishes like pork carnitas enchiladas. The kitchen also riffs on tradition, such as a mancha manteles fruit mole paired with pork belly and sweet potato.
Cocktails are born from recipes gifted by Méndez Florián’s friends in Mexico and offer riffs on the classics. Think an Old Fashioned-style libation dubbed The Old Oaxacan that’s mixed with reposado, mezcal, and cardamom-agave syrup. The Kumquat Sour adds muddled kumquat to the quintessential lemon, lime and bourbon.
Urbano 116 is currently open for lunch and dinner, and has plans to offer brunch in the coming weeks. Guests who find themselves on the waitlist can snack on fresh churros from the restaurant’s walk-up window, or hang out at the 45-seat bar.
116 King St., Alexandria; 571-970-5148; www.urbano116.com