Last May, Mezcalero and El Sol chef/owner Alfredo Solis announced that he would be closing his Cuban restaurant Little Havana and opening a new eatery named Anafre in its place. But then… it never happened. Fans of the chef’s lechon and plantains lobbied for the doors to stay open, and Solis kept serving Cuban food.
Now, five months later, Solis is returning to his initial plan. Anafre opens today in Columbia Heights, serving coastal Mexican seafood and dishes often cooked on the restaurant’s namesake anafre, a coal-burning clay pot.
“It reminds me of real Mexico, my mother, my grandma,” says Solis “This is what I was looking for, for a long time.” He affectionately calls the botanical-filled space “my grandma’s house,” with paintings of la Virgen de Guadalupe on the terra cotta-colored walls.
If the design is an homage to grandma, the anafre is a tribute to his mother’s cooking in the countryside. The tool imbues a smoky flavor to pollo a la brasa as it’s slow-cooked over wood charcoal.
While the anafre has rural roots, Solis is also looking toward coastal cities for seafood plates. Puerto Nuevo is known as lobster village, and the Baja California town inspired Solis’ lobster with jalapeno butter. A whole snapper with shrimp sauce is a nod to the seafaring ingredients found in the port city of Veracruz. Tacos are stuffed with guisado—stews made with grilled salmon, chorizo and eggs, or shrimp.
For ceviche, Solis pairs octopus, crab, and local oysters with shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. The seafood is brightened with squeezes of fresh lime and orange juice. “After you had a really rough night drinking, you want something like that. Fresh seafood, a little spicy,” Solis says. Coincidentally, the hangover dish is called ceviche vuelve a la vida, which translates to “ceviche back to life.”
The drink menu is also a journey through Mexico, exploring the country through agave-based spirits like mezcal and sotol, a drink made from wild agave plants in Chihuahua. The anafre even squeezes its way into the cocktails, charring pineapple and grapefruit for fresh juices.
Anafre. 3704 14th St., NW. Open Monday through Thursday, 11 AM to 10 PM; Friday through Saturday, 11 AM to 12 AM.