It’s no secret among D.C.’s Latino community that finding real and authentic Mexican food can be as challenging as achieving any sort of political compromise in this town. In fact, it’s nearly impossible.
To make matters worse, true D.C. taco connoisseurs are a breed of their own. They know the elements that constitute a good taco. Why? Because most D.C. taco connoisseurs are not local, they come from California, Texas, Nevada, Illinois, Arizona, New Mexico, Arkansas (just for you buddy) and other places where high quality tacos establishments are a dime a dozen.
When I first arrived to D.C., my expectations for finding good tacos were pretty low. “Go to Oyamel or there’s always Rosa Mexicano” was the most common recommendation I would get. While those restaurants were just ok, I was left with the feeling that I had just paid $90 for what could have been a $25 meal in East Los Angeles. “Go to Hyattsville, there’s plenty of low-key good places there,” others would say. That turned out to be a better recommendation for what I was looking for, as Hyattsville has no shortage of good taco places – mostly as a result of the area’s demographics. However, if you rely on public transportation, taking a taxi, uber or metro to Hyattsville just isn’t something you are willing to do every day.
So what were my other options? District Taco? Tacos el Chilango? a hipster taco with yellow cheese? the Salvadorean restaurant that “also” serves Mexican? No offense to a good pupusa, but in my experience, if a place advertises both, that means neither of them are good. You have to pick one.
A few years passed until a good friend said, “we have to go see Doña Rosa at the taco apartment.” That immediately caught my attention. “What’s a taco apartment?” I replied hardly containing the excitement in my voice. The place was described as “an apartment in Columbia Heights where this lady makes a few dishes like menudo and birria, and has a variety of tacos. You just eat right there in her converted living room. You call her once you arrive, she’ll throw you a key through the window, and you come up and eat with others who might be there. The most important thing is that she cooks grandma style and the tacos are amazing.” I was immediately captivated by this taco apartment concept and said, “let’s go now.”
In a city full of urban legends, this one happened to be true. The taco apartment and Doña Rosa were real, and everything happened just as it had been described to me. We called, the keys came flying down, and the food was beyond my wildest expectations. We were greeted with a smile, lucha libre playing in the background, and the scents of pansita, carnitas, fritangas, and some sort of cheap perfume. Of course I went back many times, and the experience became more than just a place to eat tacos. The apartment became a social gathering spot of sorts, a badge of pride for those who knew where to go, with politicos, celebrity chefs, and construction workers eating together in a cafeteria style table.
Sadly, the taco apartment is no more. It’s gone, and if you were fortunate enough to live the experience, then you will never forget it. The good news is that Doña Rosa, an immigrant from Oaxaca, is now living the American Dream. She no longer has to host hungry taco connoisseurs at her apartment, she can now serve them at her own restaurant – Lezo’s Taqueria.
Word of mouth is a powerful tool. Just last weekend, the same friend called to say “hey man, did you know that Doña Rosa opened up an actual taqueria in Mount Pleasant? Let’s go and support her,” and that’s exactly what we did. Colorful first impressions must be a “thing” for Doña Rosa, because she didn’t disappoint in that department. A sound system playing loud cumbia, a disco ball, red confetti and a sign that said “Grand Opening” were all part of her vision for welcoming new and old customers. But we all knew why were there, we were there for the tacos.
At Lezo’s you have a wide variety of them, varying from the traditional carnitas and carne asada, to cabeza, sesos, huitlacoche, pansita verde, etc… While anything you order at Lezo’s will be amazing, I do have my personal favorites, and I recommend the following:
-Carnitas - these are not your traditional shredded pork carnitas, these are hand-selected pieces that have rib, loin and just the right amount of fat. Pair these tacos with the green guacasalsa, and you’ll be back for more.
-Cabesa de Res – not for everyone, but if you like mushy/fatty meats, this should be your top choice. Pair these tacos with the red habanero salsa, trust me.
-Chicharron Prensado – just good ol’ fashion pork rinds marinated in a green chile sauce. Need I say more?
-Flor de Calabasa – maybe the healthier option in the entire menu, but also a great alternative for vegetarians.
-Huitlacoche – not for everyone, as the flavor can be overpowering for those who are not used to it, but a great second option for vegetarians.
Seriously, do yourself a favor and take 30 minutes out of your upcoming weekend to treat yourself to Lezo’s taqueria. It may not have the same aura or mysticism as the taco apartment, but this is the fruit of Dona Rosa’s hard work and sacrifice, and you can tell everything is made with tons of love.
3213 Mount Pleasant Street, NW
Washington, DC 20024