Today’s review of Mama Chuy and Dulcinea was written by dcreba. dcreba is a big apple transplant and enthusiast of all things edible. she lives – and often eats – in Logan Circle.
Howard University never had it so good.
The 2600 block of Georgia Avenue NW is now home to not one but two Mexican establishments – located directly next door to one another. Just over a year in, how does Mama Chuy’s self professed modern Mexican taqueria compare to Dulcinea Bar & Grill next door? Check out the vital statistics below.
Named for: the beloved grandmother of the brother / sister team, Dinora and Joe Orozco, who own the joint
Number of seats: 18
Number of floors: 2 – dining room upstairs; waiting area, kitchen, and take out counter downstairs
Take out: yes – full menu
Average price of appetizers and small plates: $4 tacos and $5 sopes
Average price of entrees and larger share plates: $9-13
Vegetarian options available: yes, several
Happy hour: “Happy Day” from 11-6, Tues-Friday
Dulcinea Bar & Grill:
Named for: Don Quixote’s impossible dream, his true love Dulcinea
Number of seats: 24 upstairs + bar, 16 seats down + downstairs bar
Number of floors: 2
Take out: yes, full menu
Average price of appetizers and small plates: $8 quesadillas and $7 tacos
Average price of entrees and larger share plates: $12-18
Vegetarian options available: yes, several.
On a recent visit – same day, both restaurants – Mama Chuy’s was quiet and serene at lunchtime. Highly recommend taking advantage of their lunch service, thereby enjoying the same food while missing the extensive nighttime waits and avoiding having to shout at your dining companion.
The quick and dirty: Guacamole was fresh, and an excellent start to a satisfying lunch; the accompanying chips, however, were overfried and salty and the salsa forgettably mild. Sopes – flash fried masa cakes – were flavorful and held their shape and texture throughout the meal without getting soggy. The three to four bite tacos (served 2 to an order) were wrapped in a single tortilla – controversial for those who prefer the double wrap – and filled to the point of being overstuffed. I found it easier to pick mine apart with a fork. The carne asada tacos and the carnitas sopes were standouts. The beer was cold: a pleasantly varied selection of Mexican and domestic beers are available. One quesadilla, three tacos, and one sope later, our party of two scooted in and out for lunch, happily sated, the both of us fed and watered for under $30.
Upon return to the 2600 block of Georgia Avenue in the evening for happy hour at Dulcinea, both levels of the restaurant were teeming with Howard students devouring decidedly un-Mexican plates of chicken wings and nacho appetizers. The lively social scene, coupled with the music notched a few decibels too high, made it hard to converse but the environment was upbeat, and shouting seemed acceptable.
The quick and dirty: The restaurant was “out of” margaritas that night – surprising when they had several flavors and varieties advertised on menus and table tents – so more beer was enjoyed. The chips were lighter and far less salty than those at Mama Chuy’s and were served with a fiery salsa that was too spicy for my company that night but a perfect complement for those who like it hot. The guacamole lacked flavor on its own but was improved when paired with the vegetable quesadillas. The tacos, full size and served 3 on a plate, were more than enough for a light meal. Food was well seasoned but flavors did not jump from the plate. We did not finish any of our dishes; the food was generally lackluster although generously portioned. The three of us escaped – four beers, one order of tacos, one quesadilla and a guacamole later – to the tune of $45.
The take away:
Affordable and affable, both Mama Chuy’s and Dulcinea appear to have the staying power to flourish while Georgia Avenue quietly continues to benefit and grow from neighborhood revitalization. Bring your appetite and restaurant hop: start your journey with a sope, a cold Bohemia, and a side of guacamole at Mama Chuy’s and chase it with a taco plate or fajitas paired with a Negra Modelo at neighboring Dulcinea. As Teresa from Cervantes’s Don Quixote says, “La mejor salsa del mundo es la hambre.”
Or more simply, the best sauce in the world is hunger.