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Judging Restaurants – Jaleo and Oyamel

by Prince Of Petworth April 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm 46 Comments

Jaleo is located at 480 7th Street, NW (with two other locations in Bethesda and Crystal City). The Web site says:

“Under the direction world-reknowned chef José Andrés, Jaleo’s menu offers diners an extensive selection of more than 60 different hot and cold tapas, little dishes, reflecting the rich regional diversity of classical and contemporary Spanish cuisine. The bar boasts a wide variety of Spanish red, white and rosé wines, available by the glass, as well as a selection of sherries.”

Since Oyamel is so nearby (401 7th Street, NW) and also owned by the same group that owns Jaleo, I thought I’d ask which folks like better. I realize that Jaleo is Spanish and Oyamel is Mexican but if you had to choose between the two, which would you say is better or are they equally good?

  • dues

    Both are great, but I’d take Oyamel over Jaleo because Mexican food holds a special place in my heart. Also their red snapper is amazing.

  • radracer

    never got the obsession with jaleo. it’s ok, but almost every dish tastes like spanish paprika. they need to get a bit more creative with the spices.

  • jt$

    I’m a big fan of Jaleo, good happy hour, good for dinner, enough options to please everyone, good ambiance.

    I’m less a fan of Oyamel, they do have some interesting taco choices such as beef tongue and grasshopper though I haven’t been brave enough to try the grasshopper taco yet.

  • Charlez

    Oyamel is my favorite, by far. The guacamole there is to die for.

  • U street V

    Oyamel is fine but pricey. Only go on someone else’s dime. Otherwise, a B- overall.

    • Kev29

      Go for happy hour – tacos come down to 2 for $4 and they are excellent.

      • Lrob

        Wow. That’s the first I’d heard of that. I’m adding this to a list then because I really love those tacos. Grasshopper excluded… too saucy.

        • victoria

          Grasshopper tacos?

  • Anonymous

    Haven’t been to Jaleo. Oyamel? It’s my go-to place for guacamole and a margarita or two. Can get expensive quickly (a few $4 tacos, ceviche and a drink or two and you’ve easily dropped $40).

    I did try the grasshopper taco and wouldn’t recommend it.

  • Mal

    I haven’t been to Jaleo, but I have been to La Tasca (Spanish Tapas bar by the Verizon center), and I remember it being good but pricey. Obviously it wasn’t amazing if I can’t really remember it.

    On the other hand, Oyamel is DELISH! The guacamole was awesome, the drinks were good, and my dinner was amazing. It’s definitely pricey, but it’s a nice treat. The butterfly art around the restaurant was neat too – Oyamel is the tree that monarch butterlies prefer for hibernation in Mexico. Really neat atmosphere.

    • Natalie

      I haven’t been to Jaleo, but La Tasca is probably my least favorite Spanish restaurant. It’s not bad, it’s just that Las Tapas (in Old Town, a few blocks from another La Tasca) is a lot better, and from what I’ve heard Jaleo is too. If I’m going to pay for it, I’m at least going to a good place

      • Eric in Ledroit

        for exceptional spanish food in DC, look no further than Taberna del Alabardero.

        http://www.alabardero.com/

        VERY expensive. But legitimate – I think they have another outlet in Madrid.

      • Emmaleigh504

        Been to las Tasca, Jaleo, and Las Tapas, I prefer Jaleo for tapas. I thought it was pretty delish. Las Tapas is good if you are in Old Town.

  • Erik

    I used to be a huge fan of Jaleo, but their new menu for the past couple years doesn’t appeal to me, so I stopped going. The Potatas Bravas, and apples with manchego are much fancier now, but for me lost their tastiness. I also miss their cuban eggs for bunch.

    Oyamel is good, try their hot chocolate. Its tasty!

  • ‘Nonmiss

    @ Erik. I agree. I feel as though Jaleo has gone downhill. Love the entrana at Oyamel.

  • Anon

    Big fan of Jaleo, less so of Oyamel, which sadly was better in its old incarnation in Crystal City (I know – gag)

    • la_niña

      I agree – i think the place at crystal city was better, larger and just quieter

      • Ryan

        I’ll third this one… Oyamel in CC was also less crowded. It’s still good, but something did get lost in translation.

        Big fan of Jaleo. Love their gazpacho(s).

  • LT

    The end of the small plates trend can’t come soon enough for me. I don’t mind the idea as a novelty thing once in a while, but I feel like now every other sit down restaurant downtown is “tapas style”. That is basically just a translation for charging more for less food. Rosa Mexicano is not cheap, but I definitely prefer that Oyamel since you can order a meal there.

    But if we are going with small plates from the Jaleo/Oyamel group, Zaytinya blows them both out of the water. Same owner, same small plates, but Greek/mediterranean food. Out of this world.

    • agreed!

    • dirt

      I’m with you. Not really a small plate resturant, but Churchkey sells Mac & Cheese sticks for ~$9. You get three (3) small pieces. For ~$5 you get maybe 15 tater tots.

  • markus

    Oyamel tacos are amazing.

  • H

    I’ve never understood all the praise for Jaleo…I’ve been a couple of times in the last few years, and it’s always been mediocre at best.

  • Florista

    Haven’t been to Jaleo in awhile; it was great at the start. Spouse loves Oyamel. La Tasca is a chain, and the one in Clarendon VA sucks.

  • oyamel. hands down.
    i do not understand the love of jaleo. its crowded and just not that awesome.
    plus its tough to argue with a mescal fest…

  • karen

    Oyamel! Both good, but Oyamel is better. During the season, the brussel sprouts are amazing! Also, great atmosphere and lots of good food options.

  • The high end spanish food / tapas in this city just flat-out sucks. Taberna Del Alabdero, mentioned by one commentator, was fine but nothing spectacular, nowhere NEAR as good as it should be considering the exhorbitant pricing. I can’t understand how that place stays in business. Jaleo is flat-out awful. Oyamel is good, but definitely overpriced. Tapas, along with Chinese, are inexplicably awful in DC compared with what you can get in other major cities (especially NYC, where you can get tapas for cheaper and MUCH better than anyplace offered in D.C., it is really stark, but also Boston and Chicago). If this city every got a truly great tapas place of the variety I’ve had in other cities, it would be booked solid for two months at a time.

    • And yet there’s been crowds at Jaleo for years.

      Jaleo used to be very good and reasonably priced. Portions have gone down, the menu has been trimmed, and prices have gone up. I’ll stick with Oyamel.

    • Eric in Ledroit

      Dude you are the biggest whiner about DC food choices. Why don’t you move to a real city if DC sucks so much?

      for your reference, here you are…

      whining about how our bakeries compare to Boston’s:

      http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2009/07/kikos-chicken-closes-new-peruvian-chicken-spot-to-take-over-in-august/

      whining about the state of DC’s food trucks:

      http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2009/11/washingtonian-magazine-reports-on-dcs-first-cupcake-truck/

      whining about dc’s pizza:

      http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2009/02/are-you-sitting-down-i-hope-youre-sitting-down-cause-this-is-some-seriously-sweet-scuttlebutt/

      whining about how we’re following the speakeasy trend:

      http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2008/12/new-cocktail-lounge-on-u-street-the-gibson/

      whining about how our chinese food compares to boston’s

      http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2008/08/mayorga-closes-for-good/

      seriously. get over it.

      • Jim

        Great Chinese food in Boston…LOL.

        • Eric in Ledroit

          translation = ‘when i was in college in boston i used to have takeout chinese that i fondly recall as being 10x better than it would be if i went back and had some today.’

          • Hey, shoot me. I love DC except for the food. But I think is a major negative for this city compared to other places I’ve lived (Chicago, New York, Boston). I sincerely hope it improves. This is not a good food town. It is improving tremendously, but still sucks compared to other cities with similar levels of disposable income. And it absolutely mystifies me.

            I guess next time you complain about crime or something like that though, I’ll say, hey, love it or leave it, get over it. Not to say food is remotely at important as an issue like crime. But this is a blog in part devoted to discussion of frivolous likes and dislikes.

            And yeah, I lived in Boston for years post college, and while Boston can’t compare to NYC or San Fran for Chinese, it has a credible Chinatown, unlike D.C.

          • And by the way, the consensus here seems to be that Jaleo is bad. And yet it remains crowded. Why? The answer is simple .. there aren’t a plethora of better alternatives. Restaurants that wouldn’t survive anywhere else can survive in D.C. I can give 10 reasons why D.C. is better than, say, Boston … it’s more diverse, more integrated, the people are more interesting, it has better weather, has a far more interesting base of great jobs (my primary reason for being here), is (believe it or not) marginally more affordable, among others. But food is not one of them (again, Chinese is no Boston specialty, yet I could list six Chinese places in Boston better than any in D.C., and I could give a damn whether or not you’re interested). And Boston isn’t even a great food town like New York or Chicago. It’s just a reality. I struggle to find places to take out of town guests that compare to what they are accustomed to for the same price point in many, many other cities.

  • GREG “LEGS” SAMPSON

    I love Oyamel…. Mostly because the name comes from combining OYSTERS and OATMEAL.. I could think of nothing finer on a cold afternoon such as this one.

  • Anonymous

    am i the only one who finds Jaleo to be WAY overrated? it seems to get constant good reviews, but compared to some hole in the wall tapas places i love in NY, it falls short every time.

    i’m not meaning to start a NY vs DC food fight, but jaleo’s tapas always seem not quite as good as i’d like them to be, and several dollars more than i’d prefer.

  • MSF

    The experienced Spaniard in me can tell you that Jaleo is good and fairly authentic. I near flipped when I saw txistorra on the menu which is a very tasty and flavorful basque sausage (my family is from Northern Spain). La Tasca is straight up awful. Haven’t tried Oyamel though I’ve been wanting to for a while.

  • sam

    Oyamel. Hands down. Jaleo is overpriced and mediocre; it’s not too much better than any other tapas joint. Totally overrated. Oyamel, by contrast, is subtly innovative and entirely delicious. Portions are still tapas-sized (maybe a bit bigger), but the range and depth of flavors is leagues ahead of other “upscale” Mexican restaurants (I’m thinking Rosa Mexicana and Dos Caminos in NY). The winner: Oyamel by a landslide!

  • except for the notorious Patatas Bravas debacle of 2009, i’ve never had a bad experiences at jaleo in the 13 years i’ve been going there.

    maybe its average, maybe small plates are passe. whatever. i still like it.
    could i eat there every day? or even every week? no.

  • PetworthChicana

    I haven’t tried either Jaleo or Oyamel. I just can’t imagine it being authentic, delicious Mexican food. It’s been difficult finding a good Mexican food only restaurant. I like Cuban, Salvadorean, Peruvian etc, but I crave authentic tacos, tortas, tamales, and sopes. (Missing SoCal gastronomy)

    The above comments haven’t convinced me to try them out. I still continue my quest for really good food.

    • dcdirewolf

      Petworth Chicana, I know where you can get the real Mexican food you crave, but I can’t tell you about here because I don’t want the secret to get out. If you can get me your email address through POP, I will hook you up.

      • PetworthChicana

        dcdirewolf, my em is petworthchicana at gmail.
        Thanks…

  • Anonymous

    Jaleo’s food has gone way downhill while prices have gone up. Oyamel has some excellent dishes, but the portions are far too small and much too expensive.

  • Oyamel’s happy hour taco deal gets my vote. 2 tacos or more at $2 each.

  • New2h

    PS. Eric if you’re going to be a total dousche and take the time to search for all of my food bitching, all of which I stand behind 100 percent, you could at least note that I’ve also raved here about the DC restaurants that do a great job, including rasika, etete, sushi ko, kooshi, 1905, among others.

  • Shaw Sweetie

    LOVE the happy hours at Oyamel, Jaleo and Zaytinya. Can’t beat those prices! Between Oyamel and Jaleo, I’ll take Oyamel – LOVE the 2 pollo tacos and margarita for $4 each during the happy hour!

    I have had a dilemma, though. I love the food, but the bartenders that I’ve had each time during the happy hour have horrendous attitudes/service! I’ve considered many times not coming back b/c I just can’t deal with it! (Can’t leave those tacos,though!) I’ve got quite a few bartender friends, so I have an idea of what they have to deal with, but damn! I spend my money, tip very well, am a repeat customer – can I get some better service?

    Has anyone else experienced this?

  • tew3x

    I used to love the crystal city location (well not the location itself obviously, but the space was big and nice), and I think the food quality has declined since then. The last 2 times I’ve been to Oyamel in chinatown, it was basically a salt festival.

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