Taqueria Los Primos


Death of an opportunity always opens another.  Such occurrence took place in a spot in between a Motel 6 and a Thrift Store in North Laurel where a former restaurant/bar perhaps resided – my lack of recollection only points to its nondescript existence.  A couple of months ago, my BFF called me exuding about a new Taqueria in our “hood”.  It was no surprise to me that such an eating establishment would open, as this is only a mere representation of the new make-up of the burgeoning Latino population in this township.  With an anticipation for such cuisine, I paid Taqueria Los Primos a few visits to sample their offerings.


Walking into the wide space, one is confronted by a large order counter with a expansive menu displayed above.  It can be daunting for the novice to the menu, but many visits to other authentic area Mexican restaurants prepared me in navigating this Latino cuisine.  An order that such friend was raving about was Quesadillas.  The stuffed tortillas arrived well-grilled with the right amount of char providing that smokey note.  What it encased was a generous amount of Mexican mozzarella-like stringy cheese accompanying some chunks of cooked beef, and thankfully, not ground beef like in some establishments, which my friend was really enjoying his bite on this occasion.  A similar order on another visit was a bit disappointing with the lack of char on the tortillas, and an overwhelming amount of cheese.  Our drink orders during our many visits were the perfect thirst quenchers consisting of Jarritos (Mexican sodas made with real sugar and fruit essence), house-made Rice Milk (Horchata), Tamarind Water (Tamarindo), and Hibiscus Water (Jamaica).  These non-bottled drinks were both tasting recently-made and the perfect balance of the ingredients along with the right amount of sugar without being cloyingly sweet.  A healthier choice is fresh Carrot or Orange Juice made to order and tasting naturally sweet.











Flautas are popular in Mexican taquerias and I had to taste their version. My plate arrived with 4 stuffed crispy tacos inundated by a mound of toppings consisting of lettuce, tomato, sweet onions, all slathered with some crema (Mexican sour cream) and crumbled cheese, that hinted of both Parmesan and blue cheese. A bite into the first flauta caused me to pause.  The crispy corn tortilla encased a chicken stuffing that was dry and stringy, an indication of overcooking or over-frying.  The second roll fared much better and injected more assurance in this diner.  The dark chicken meat was fairly moist and well seasoned, making each bite enjoyable especially with the different toppings that added more moisture and flavor.  The side of refried beans was as good as it gets, tasting velvety smooth and properly seasoned, good enough to belie its true humble nature.  A side order of Nopales, grilled cactus, was revelatory to me.  The leathery paddles exuded some good char flavor along with its slightly bitter natural notes, and with a good squeeze of lime (all limes pieces were necessary), the acid made each strip quite enjoyable and palate provoking, this tasting different (and better in my mind) from the usual pickled version.


Along with the first dish above, my BFF had also raved about the tacos offered here.  My order one day was made with Carnitas and the other Al Pastor.  One bite into the Carnitas one blew me away instantly.  The pieces of pork were perfectly seasoned and cooked while maintaining some of its moisture and porcine goodness.  The highlight to these meaty bites was the skin cooked to a crisp that gave some crunchy interest and its amazing bacon-like goodness.  The Al Pastor ones were fairly tasty with the thin slivers of seasoned meat made red with some coloring probably from the achiote seed.  However, it lacked the burnt meat flavor that the former exuded.  The topping of fresh pineapple was interesting that made these bites more intriguing.  The side green and red chile sauces were more than adequate with the green one lending some spicy fruity acid flavors and the red one some salty smoky dried chili notes, both elevating these soft tortilla bites to another level.


A couple of stuffed sandwiches caught the eye of my companions. Burritos here come large and well-stuffed.  My companion’s order was made with chicken, paired with rice, beans, and fresh elements of lettuce and tomato, all moistened by a light creamy sauce.  He seemed content with this large bite despite the fact that he is not a fan of the starch fillers.  Another companion’s order was from the large sandwich menu.  His order was the Cubano, which is strange for a Mexican eatery.  The behemoth bite came loaded with slices of grilled meat, grilled sliced sausage, a fried egg, and lightened by some sliced lettuce, and spiced by some pickled jalapeño slices.  Not quite a traditional Cubano, but my friend had no real complaints except for its overwhelming size.



















A couple of open-face dishes were also sampled.  The first was Huarache, consisting of a crispy cornmeal cake slathered with the silky smooth refried beans (its name is attributed to its slipper-like appearance), topped with a choice protein and the usual suspects of toppings and flavors.  What I enjoyed sampling in this dish for the first time was the corn flavor in the cake with its mealy texture, and the small chunks of grilled Cecina beef which tasted well-aged from its hanging after a marination of salt and lime juice. For a first-time, this dish hit the right notes for me.   A friend’s order during one visit was Tostadas.  It pretty much was the same make-up as the latter dish, but the base consisted of crispy tacos holding the elements together, topped by some perfectly ripe avocado.  The refried bean on the crispy rounds unfortunately softened their crispiness quite quickly, which disappointed the eater.  But the choice of the awesome Carnitas with its crispy skin helped my friend overlook this slight downfall.


My visits were made on the weekends, and I noticed that many customers ordered the Mexican perennial, Menudo.  The bowl arrived with its achiote-stained red soup submerging big pieces of the stomach floating and chucks of bone.  One taste of the soup revealed a tasty broth but there was a hit of funkiness from that part of the cow.  The toppings contributed some onion sweetness and crunch, the cilantro herbaciousness, and good amount of lime fruit acid that helped to temper with off-notes in the soup.  The pieces of offal were well cooked making them smooth and falling apart fairly easily in the mouth.  However, after half way through this bowl, I had enough of this cut of meat even though I grew up eating it, albeit with a much smaller quantity.  All in all, I appreciated this well-made bowl supposedly with its flavors strong enough to cure a severe hangover.

Everything about Taqueria Los Primos is puro mexicano, from the large Latino clientele that patronize this establishment on the weekends, to the Virgen de Guadalupe statue adorning the wall next to the jukebox pumping out loud ranchera music.  But the star of this place is the uncompromising Mexican dishes that keeps beckoning the customers to return for more, especially the tacos made with that pork-heavenly Carnitas, to the Flautas (once passed the first awfully made one), to the other open-faced Tostadas and Huarache, and finally the rich sobering Menudo soup.  Never mind the fairly large family crowds on the weekends and the sensory overload of music and sights (including the large screen showing Mexican fútbol).  Once you start settling in with the food, the dishes will hit the spots and you feel all just fine right here.

Taqueria Distrito Federal

Taqueria Distrito FederalTaqueria Distrito Federal

Washington DC is going through spurts of change, especially in certain neighborhoods in this small district.  I have been living in my adopted city since my arrival for graduate school, and I have seen the changes in various parts of the city, from the squalid days of the 80’s crack years to today’s prosperous times especially in neighborhoods that have gone through some serious gentrification. One such neighborhood is Columbia Heights, an area once known for its high density of immigrants mainly from Central America.  Walking around Columbia Heights metro stop these days, one can’t help but marvel at the swanky condo buildings and shopping centers that were not in existence not too long ago – one could assume its mistaken identity with such drastic changes. I faced such mistaken identity when I bought some online coupons for a taco place, thinking that it was a high-end Mexican restaurant that I had been waiting to do a review on, confusing the order of the words in the name. Oh well, with such fate in the coupons, I looked up the online reviews, which built up some anticipation in me to visit this low-key establishment.

Salsa de AvocadoJamaica/Hibiscus Drink

Taqueria Distrito Federal is located about half-mile from the above-mentioned metro stop.  Heading north, one notices the effects of gentrification petering off as the buildings look more aged and the din of the streets pulsating with rhythmic lilts of salsa and merengue, in addition to a growing density of Latinos and less of the gringo.  TDF is on the ground level of what looks like a townhouse with a small patio area for al fresco dining, prime dining property compared to the rather cavernous inside. Once seated, I was regaled with a bowl of creamy green salsa with some thin fried nachos.  Not thinking much of the usual pedestrian offering, I took a small bite while I was perusing the menu. Immediately, I sensed that this was a different type of salsa.  My investigative tongue was analyzing the interesting notes, coming up with a slightly smoothness from the avocado, some front-mouth heat from jalapeño peppers, herbaceous from a hit of cilantro, and tartness from a good dose of lime juice (not so limey, unfortunately, on another visit). Before I knew it, I was making some dent in the basket of chips which supported the limelight (pun intended) on  the salsa.  The drink offerings were the perfect accompaniment to the nachos.  On one visit, it was Jamaica, Hibiscus flower water, with its slight floral notes and its soft berry-like puckeriness.  Another visit’s liquid was Marañon, Cashew fruit juice, which I appreciated for its unique fruitiness with a gentle tannin-like quality.  In addition, other drinks are the usual Mexican/Central American offerings of Horchata,  Tamarindo, and Jarritos (Mexican sodas made with REAL sugar).  Authenticity definitely starts here indeed.

Tostada de PescadoThe menu offers primarily Mexican street-fare that are relatively small bites.  I could not help but zone in on the Tostadas, and on one visit, the topping of choice was fish.  The crispy fried corn tortilla was nice and crispy, strong enough to support the layers of slightly smokey mashed black beans, the fish, a handful of crisp lettuce, and a slathering of light crema, Mexican sour cream (less sour than the usual) along with shaved mild Mexican cheese.  But what really got my attention was the fish that was cooked firm but the right texture for this dish and tasting well-seasoned.  I was curious to what type fish was being used, guessing Red Snapper.  The waitress said it was Tilapia – seriously?  There was no hint of the dreaded muddiness sometimes associated with the fish, and I was enjoying every morsel of that sea protein.   This was definitely delicioso especially given that it was that fish of choice.  Another trip’s order was made with shrimp which was not so exciting for the red bean paste was a bit flavorless and the shrimp not as tasty as the fish version.  Other versions can be ordered with different meat topping but seafood is the way to go for me with this crispy tortilla bite.

Taco de Camarón

Taco al PastorBeing a Mexican taqueria, TDF’s menu highlights its taco offerings. An order for lunch one day was made with the tilapia fish, tasting similar to the tostada on the same visit.  Pieces of fish came sitting on a couple of small tortillas, tasting fairly fresh and with its corn notes, but perhaps store bought since it didn’t have the hand-made appearance judging by the perfectly round shape.  In addition to the protein, a topping of ripe avocado slices, sweet white onion and cilantro, with a lime wedge was its simple accompaniments.  And that’s all is really needed for this dish as to not overwhelm the palate with strong flavors.   A friend’s order of a trio made with shrimp on another visit looked very appetizing and beautifully presented.  One taste of his taco pointed to fresh plump shrimp, slightly marinated in perhaps reddish achiote and a hint of chili powder.  Moving beyond seafood, a dinner order made with barbacoa, goat, was a bit too much for the sitting.  The pieces of meat were a bit tough, although well seasoned with achiote and chili, and it was sitting on a small pool of reddish oil on top of the tortillas.  The strong flavors of this meat was a bit overwhelming and off putting.  Another order on another visit was on the safer side.  Taco al Pastor came with pieces of beef that was also marinated the similar fashion as above (like how it is done South of the Border, according to a Puerto Rican friend who has visited the capitol), with the cut of meat tasting well-seasoned, mild in meat flavor, and tender to the bite.  Other taco offerings are made with interesting cuts of meat, such as beef tongue, tripe, and chorizo (Mexican spicy sausage).  Here there is a taco for everyone, from the risk-taker to the not-so.

Mexican Pork in Green Sauce

The special of the house is listed as Plato Especial.  The plate arrived with chunks of pork ribs smothered in a green sauce, served with black beans and yellow rice.  A bite into the meat revealed its fattiness and strong pork flavor, simmered in the sauce until nearly falling off the bone.  But it was the sauce that made the dish, tasting tart from green tomatillos (a relative of the gooseberry), slightly pungent with a good hit of garlic and cilantro, and spicy from the use of green chilies.  The sauce looked plentiful until I was searching for more spoonfuls to finish my meat off, wishing for more on the plate.  The black beans were definitely house-cooked judging by its bare firmness which tasted seasoned but a bit ordinary.  Not much can be said about the yellow rice, but very few places can impress me with this starch cooked this way.

Tamales Rojo y Verde

Perusing the menu, the weekend specials grabbed my attention immediately, and I knew I had to pay my visits on the weekend to try them.  I was quite hesitant ordering the Tamales since my experience at another Mexican restaurant was disappointing and they tasted quite stodgy.  My order of a pair arrived made with red sauce and green with the other.  One forkful into these small bites dispelled all sense of doubt.  The red version had some smokey heat from the use of dried chili sauce paired with pieces of tender pork that were well-seasoned, perhaps boiled in a good stock.  The green version exuded its green chili vegetal heat with pieces of dark chicken meat that was equally tender.  But what made them very successful and extremely tasty was the light fluffiness of the dough, masa harina, tasting extremely savory with the right amount of salt and stock.  The moist corn husk as their shell was indicative of them being freshly-made and steamed to order (a far cry from the microwaved version in the other place) imparting more corn goodness into the moist dough.  I think I could have just had these delightful parcels as my main meal that day.

MenudoThe other weekend specials are soup based.  The first is Menudo, the famous, or infamous, Mexican soup.  I reluctantly ordered this soup due to its reputation and my preconceived notion of what it would taste like; being known as a cure for hangover with pieces of off-cuts was not exactly its most appealing quality.  My bowl arrived with a reddish soup submerging pieces of barely recognizable and unrecognizable pieces of, uhm, meat. One dip of the spoon was a revelation. The reddish soup was not spicy at all, but savory and colored by the use of achiote.  Fishing around the soup, I came across pieces of tripe and huge chunks of cow feet that was a slight put-off for me, even for this adventurous gourmand.  After adding some sweet onion, fragrant cilantro and a good squeeze of lime, I was beginning to appreciate the broth, which was devoid of excessive grease, and the pieces of soft tripe that disintegrated in my mouth easily.  The cow foot? Nah, not for me.  I prefer to leave it to the inebriated to show either their ravenous hunger or drunken stupor to muster that piece of appendage.


The other soup dish was Pozole.  A big bowl arrived with pieces of hominy (reconstituted dried corn) and chunks of pork, all cooked in a fairly clear broth.  After my dining companion dumped in a plateful of side condiments of onions, radishes, lettuce, cilantro, cracked crispy tortilla, along with lots of lime juice, I dipped my spoon to have a taste – I fell in love with this bowlful immediately.  The hominy was cooked enough with still a slight bite left, paired with the fork-tender pieces of pork, swimming in that oh-so-good broth that was clean tasting and herbaceous from a good sprinkling of Mexican oregano, possessing a slightly darker flavor than its Mediterranean cousin. I was also enjoying the accompaniments in the soup with the onions providing a sweet crunch, the crispy tortilla for more crunch and toasted corn notes, the lime juice for citrus tang, and the lettuce and radish that brought some cooling vegetal crunch to this hot soup.  Even though I had my order in front of me, I kept reaching over for more of this soup with its irresistible flavor and ingredients.  It was definitely a very tasty Pozole, órale! (Sorry, I couldn’t help it).

Taqueria Distrito FederalDespite the mistaken identity on my part, I’m glad I made it to Taqueria Distrito Federal for its authentic and tasty Mexican street fare that puts most places making similar attempts, especially Tex-Mex, to shame.  Yes, the place is a bit of a dive and the dining area lacking in ambience.  But what makes this establishment worthwhile is the dishes that are worth the trip, starting with their tacos (al pastor and the seafood kinds were my favorite), the tostadas, the ethereally light yet savory red and green tamales that raised my eyebrows, the pork house special cooked in that can’t-get-enough tangy and spicy green sauce, and that irresistible Pozole stew that just blew me away.  And there is that rather funky Menudo soup whose broth was revealing but a challenge for the sober-minded diner. Instead of a trip south of the border for authentic Mexican fare, a short trip up Columbia Heights will whisk one away from the usual environment, and your taste buds will take a gastronomic journey with its authentic offerings. Buen Provecho.

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