D’ La Santa is hoping to buck some history. Last month Capitol Hill’s newest Mexican restaurant opened in a long-vacant space near Roanoke Park that has had trouble sustaining restaurants. So far, its newest tenant seems to be clicking, with early raves for its meat-centric menu, cocktails and friendly staff. I recently stopped in with my wife and some friends to check it out, and here are three impressions of the visit.
The list of six cocktails leans expectedly toward Mexican standbys, and the scratch margarita isn’t a bad place to start. But the Jicara is even better, mingling tequila, orange, grapefruit, mandarin and lime. It delivers layers of citrus, but is also a little earthy and salty. It’s named for the exquisitely carved cup, made from calabash tree bark, in which it’s served. Some distillers use these cups to taste straight mezcal.
The cup, also used for the margarita, comes perched on a little tripod that could be used as a normal glass stem to lift the drink for sipping. But the more fun, and more ritualistic, way to drink it is to hoist the cup on its own. The sangria, lush and not overly-sweet, was also a big hit. Eleven beers, including Mexican imports and local brews like Elysian’s Space Dust IPA, and a tight assortment of wine and tequilas are available.
While the big hunks of grilled meat have garnered the most buzz (my carnivorous companion’s rib-eye did get the thumbs-up), the menu is varied, with both Mexican staples and lesser-known dishes. It’s what you’d expect when learning that the dishes come from Guadalajaran owner Angelica Villasenor’s mother’s recipes. The rajitas appetizer was tops at our table, with fire-roasted poblano peppers soaking in a corn and cream sauce, served with small, round baked tortillas. There are selections of tacos and tortas and assorted Mexican street food (aka antojitos) with your choice of meat.
I had the huarache, or “shoe,” a long masa tortilla covered with beans, cabbage, radish, cojita cheese, grilled onion and soy chorizo. The latter is not listed in the meat choices, but proved a fine substitute from the two-option vegetarian menu. In addition, every table got a big round plate of extra toppings: salsa, pico de gallo, delicious pickled red onions, diced white onion, radish and cilantro.
Even when outside the restaurant, it’s impossible not to notice the showstopping large wooden tree when looking through the big windows facing the streets. A very singular piece in the center of the room, it appeared to be crafted out of pieces of driftwood, with wooden-lanterns dangling from the twisting branches. Mirrors with flowered-patterned metal frames that feature on the two longer walls and a small wall of artistic crucifies also add nice touches, as does the friendly staff, bustling around the crowds of locals and folks searching for Mexican specialties.
That staff is made up of many of Villasenor’s family members, though they seemed to get along better than many families I know. There are around 50 seats in the restaurant (though they have drinks, there isn’t a separate bar area), with wood-topped tables accented by red booth seating along the walls. It’s a pleasant (and much needed) addition to this neighborhood.