This Summer’s Blockbuster Hit in the Restaurant Industry is Unfussy Mexican Cuisine
Walking into the newest pop-up, Amparo Fondita, at District Space in Brookland will envelope you with the feeling of having just stepped into your Mexican grandmother’s home. You immediately feel welcomed, like you’re going to be taken care of – and leave with a full, happy belly.
The name, Amparo Fondita, echos that feeling. Amparo is after chef Christian Irabién’s grandmother, and fondita meaning unfussy. Irabién’s goal is to enlighten diners to the fresh, simplistic flavors of Mexican cuisine that highlight the bounty of the sea and the brilliant qualities of ripe, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Irabién wants to expose people to traditional flavors, ingredients and dishes from the coastal states of Mexico, of which so much of the cuisine is lumped into meat heavy dishes and cheap tacos. At Amparo Fondita, you’ll find swoon worthy vegetarian options, sweet and succulent seafood, and the best black beans you’ll ever eat. Not to mention the made to order tortillas from Manos de Maiz. Irabién also boasts that his food will make you feel great at the end of the meal; whether you’re heading home for a peaceful slumber or headed out for a night of drinks and dancing, this food is the perfect feel-good meal for any time.
Begin the evening at the bar, where you can experience flights of tequila or mezcal that are served with sweet and salty pairings of tropical fruits, chapulines (grasshopper) salt, Oaxacan cheese, etc. It’s so much fun to mix and match the flavors of the spirits with the vibrant snacks – a must before your meal. You can also sip on some of the expertly crafted cocktails such as the White Mexican, or the Ryan Collins. The margaritas are some of the best I’ve ever had, so don’t sleep on tradition.
Next, dine on the salt-cured cactus salad – a little slimy but in a good way, adorned with pickled blueberries and purslane. It’s like nothing you’ve ever had before and composed with expert technique and finesse. You’ve never had a quesadilla until you’ve tried Chef Irabién’s – simply prepared with cheese and a Mexican herb reminiscent of fennel and sweet basil – it’s fresh and completely addicting with no sign of a greasy fried mess.
The shrimp and crab cocktail salad is the salad of the summer. Succulent shrimp with sweet lump crab simply tossed with fresh herbs, citrus and tomato, is scooped up onto crispy hand-made tortillas. No, I would not like to share.
My favorite dish, which is not always available, is the farro esquites, a tamale served in a charred pepper atop meaty farro sprinkled with crunchy corn. It is a true masterpiece. The flavors are bright, smokey, and meaty (with no meat!), with exciting textures in every bite. I could not stop going back for more of this one.
Other highlights include the charred sweet potato served with chile butter and piping hot tortillas; braised short rib with shaved onions and starfruit; and the corn truffle ravioli in poblano sauce.
But the dish to top them all are the rancho gordo midnight black beans sprinkled with cheese. I have no idea what is going on in these beans and I don’t even LIKE beans, but I found myself literally drinking this cup of beans. I think I love it because it’s more like a soup than a chunky side of beans, slightly viscous and completely drinkable. By the end of the evening I was just scooping the beans by the spoonful into my mouth and trying my hardest to hoard a cup to myself.
Finally, please do not leave before ordering the vanilla panna cotta and the coffee cocktail. My absolute favorite dessert in the entire world is panna cotta, and specifically now located at Amparo Fondita. It is cold, creamy, slightly sweet and speckled with firm papaya – the perfect dessert. If you prefer to drink your dessert, the coffee cocktail is light and refreshing with a slight sweetness that will ensure to pep you back up after an evening of food and drink.
I enjoyed myself so much at this extended pop-up, that I went back the very next night so that our family visiting from out of town could experience the beauty of what Mexican cuisine truly is. I can’t wait to see what Chef Irabién does next, and I’ll be sure to follow him wherever he goes!
District Space is located at: 3522 12th Street NE, Washington, DC 20017
Dinner hours are Wednesday/Thursday, 5-10pm, Friday/Saturday, 5-11pm.
Brunch hours are Saturday/Sunday, 10am-2pm.
Photos c/o Michelle Scholtes.