Fuego Cocina y Tequileria is the latest incarnation from the DC food powerhouse Passion Food Restaurant Group who is behind the largely successful DC Coast, Acadiana, and District Commons just to name a few. So I was thrilled to hear about their new venture into traditional Mexican cuisine. I was, however, less than enthused that it was in the Northern Virgina suburb of Clarendon. It’s not that there is anything wrong with NOVA, and the nice people who I assume live and work there. It has everything to do with my personal selfishness and unwillingness to cross the bridge. It’s an issue, and I’m working on it. I do however maintain that some of the best ethnic food lies in the shopping malls and run down buildings in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia bordering DC. So, in pursuit of all things culinary, I packed rations, got my compass, loaded up my Jeep, and headed South, in the rain, on a weeknight nonetheless. The things I endure for food…thankfully the staff was great, the atmosphere was modern and tasteful, and the food was outstanding.
On the corner of Clarendon and Fillmore which most recently occupied the now closed Harry’s Tap Room, Fuego offers a bustling first level bar (pictured below) and dinning area, and an upstairs dining floor, complete with semi-open kitchen views and a large fireplace. Both levels were packed but it was surprisingly not loud.
We were lead upstairs, seated in a plush booth, and presented with a manageable but diverse food menu and a tequila list with over 120 varieties. Had it not been a school night, my liver could have been in trouble. Our waiter went through the menu as fresh, house-made tortilla chips and two varieties of salsa were brought to our table (pictured below). The chips were hot, perfectly salted, and crispy (not to mention free, round two costs you $2). There was a salsa verde of sorts that was mild and fresh, and a roasted red salsa that packed a bit more a kick and was smoky and rich – both very good.
They offer a wide variety of tacos on housemade corn tortillas paired with three sauces (smooth and creamy avocado based sauce, a spicy roasted habenero sauce, and a traditional smoked red sauce), and garnished with chopped white onions with cilantro – very traditional. Options include lengua (beef tongue), al pastor (pork), chicken, short-rib, fish, shrimp, chorizo and a vegetarian. We opted for Birria, Jalisco style slow roasted goat (pictured below). The goat was seasoned lightly and was extremely tender. If you like the earthy taste of lamb, you’ll love goat. The bonus was the strip of crispy goat skin that was on top of each taco. Coming with two per order, they were inhaled. Some of the best, most authentic tacos I have had outside of Mexico.
Next we ordered a very traditional Coctel de Marsicos (pictured below). Cocteles are very traditional and the best I’ve ever had were outside Marina Vallarta in Mexico. These were almost identical. Consisting of raw shrimp, octopus, and tilapia that are “cooked” using lime juice and spices, this heavenly seafood mixture was served in a spicy tomato and onion red broth with huge slices of fresh avocado and saltines – exactly how they serve it at Ocho Tostados in Jalisco, Mexico. The portions of fresh seafood inside were huge and surprisingly filing. It definitely brought back memories of being ocean-side in Mexico, rather than the typical tex-mex fund elsewhere in the States.
For dinner, I ordered the carnitas (pictured below). Tender shredded pieces of pork slowly fried in a copper pot, served with housemade corn tortillas and chopped white onions and cilantro on the side. For my side dish, I ordered vegetables en escabeche – pickled vegetables which are traditionally offered in Jalisco as taco garnish. It’s a make your own taco situation in the best possible way. The pork was so tender and flavorful and the ability to add as much garnish and sauce was perfect for customization. I savored as much as I could and took the remaining pork home. (Tip: with leftovers like this, re-heat in a pot on top of the stove with a splash of chicken broth and fresh cilantro – they were just as good the next day).
My fiance was immediately sold on the chiles rellenos divorciados (pictured below). Basically two different chile rellenos prepared two different ways. One cheese that was fried, another beef picadillo that was baked, served with a salsa verde and salsa roja respectively. Cooked to crispy yet tender perfection, the exterior provided a great crispy contrast to the tender, cheesy interior of one, and the seasoned beef and vegetable mixture of the other. They were some of the best rellenos I’ve ever had.
All said, Passion Food Group nailed yet another restaurant. From the precise details of the decor, to the clearly well though out menu offerings and perfect execution of the dishes, Fuego Cocina y Tequileria is everything that a Mexican restaurant should be. I can’t wait to go back.
Where: Fuego Cocina y Tequileria, 2800 Clarendon Boulevard (corner of Clarendon and Fillmore) Arlington, VA 22201. Website.