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Pacifico Cantina, Tex-Mex on 8th and E Street in Barracks Row

Capitol Hill Barracks Row Tex-Mex Rooftop

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#1 Pat

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 04:08 PM

Xavier Cervera has produced another visually appealing restaurant, but this one looks somewhat different than the others. Located in the old Capitol Video Sales space at 514 8th Street, SE, it’s quite a transformation/reinvention of place. Nice bright tile complements the bright plates and glasses. It just feels light all around, even on the inside. There is also a rooftop bar and dining area and downstairs patio.

The downstairs barstools are made of rattan or something similar and bolted to the floor. Unfortunately, one common element to his other projects--building out a narrow space towards the back and upwards--results in very narrow passageways to the back of the restaurant. Getting to the bathrooms requires a tight navigation around the kitchen, with people running in and out carrying food.

They opened one week ago for a couple days and then closed again for a few more (according to their twitter feed, this was to get more power to the building).

I’d held up on going because I didn’t want to go immediately and then they were closed. When I checked yelp, initial reports were good on the drinks, mixed on the service, and pretty bad on the food. Then I saw one very recent post from a yelper saying they had installed a new chef from Austin and the food had improved, so I decided to give it a go today for brunch. I saw the executive chef go by when I was there, and it was Gregorio Martinez from The Chesapeake Room (same ownership). I’m not sure if there is also a chef from Austin or exactly what the kitchen situation is, but the food I had today was pretty good, though with room for improvement. I also thought it was expensive for what it was.

The menu on Urbandaddy (there isn’t one on the Pacifico site yet) listed nachos, which interested me, but they’re not on the brunch menu. I wanted chips, though, so I got an order of chile con queso with chips ($8) as well as huevos rancheros ($13), which is one of my standards for evaluating a Tex-Mex restaurant. The bartender was having some trouble understanding my order (I asked just for “queso” at first and he must have thought I just wanted cheese), but he asked me twice for clarification until he felt he knew what I wanted. I’d rather have that then get the wrong order. He was a bit slow but trying hard and he hasn’t worked there long, so it wasn’t a big deal.

At first I thought the queso (which came with a shredded white cheese on top) wasn’t spiced at all, but it had more of a kick as I got farther in. This would be a moderate-sized appetizer for two people to share. I was hungry and ate it all. The amount of queso was perfectly matched to the amount of the chips.

The huevos rancheros were not what I was expecting but good nonetheless. Menu description specified 2 fried eggs; 2 soft corn tortillas; ranchero sauce; refried beans; crema fresca; cotija cheese; red onion. It came out layered like a torte, not much bigger than the tortillas that were its base. I’d sort of compare this to Texas stacked enchiladas, but it wasn’t quite that either. In any case, it was tasty, but I’m not sure how I feel about the price tag.

These two things plus a draft Pacifico ($6), set me back $36 after tax and tip, and I wasn’t completely full. I don’t like being stuffed full, so that’s not a complaint. Generally, though, I can’t finish a full meal at a restaurant, so that’s my basis for comparison.

The most striking element is the rooftop bar and dining area. After I finished my meal, I went up to look around and ran into friends who were eating and drinking at the bar. This gave me the opportunity to sample even more food and a bit of the mango margarita.

Sitting up there feels like being at the beach. It's configured to facilitate a nice breeze blowing through. It started to get a little too hot after a while, but it’s a great spot. That’s definitely the selling point of the restaurant.

They were finishing the last of what they ordered when I arrived: guacamole in a huge molcajete ($12); pork, grilled fish, and shrimp tacos ($5 each; does not include rice and/or beans); chile con queso; salsa and chips ($3). They were drinking mango margaritas ($8) and sangria ($8). First, the worst: the salsa tasted like crushed canned tomatoes and desperately needed salt and other flavor. I didn’t try any of the tacos, but they liked the pork and fish more than the shrimp. (One of the people adores Senart’s shrimp as much as I do, so I’m not sure why these tacos didn’t please. Maybe it’s not the same sourcing.) The guacamole seemed to be mostly smashed avocado and red onion. There was probably something else in there, but I couldn’t identify it. I make better guacamole at home. Twelve bucks for this was ridiculous. For half the price, okay, but $12?!

The mango margarita was strong and big for the price (gorgeous glassware!). It’s a slushy frozen type that melts into lovely liquid in the heat. The person whose I tried also likes their strawberry margaritas, but they were out of those. The price for margaritas is oddly low given that draft beers are $6 and canned are $5 (a can of Tecate accompanied my brunch encore). A bucket of 5 beers is $20, for anyone planning an outing.

I didn’t try the sangria, but that’s half-price on Sundays after 5PM, as are nachos, so I may be back.

#2 Pat

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 01:00 PM

I went back for a follow-up visit and got nachos. First of all, I didn't take very good notes on decor the first time around. When I went back through the inside downstairs didn't seem as light as it had the first time (though I did go later in the day on the return visit and there's the contrast of sunlight with interior light). And, while, I saw lots of decoratively painted wood (including the floor), I didn't notice tiles. I could have sworn I saw some the first time.

In any case, I went back to the rooftop and ordered the classic nachos (half price after 5 PM on Sundays = $6): black beans, queso quesadilla, pico di gallo, Mexican crema, and red voodoo sauce. They come with either chicken or carne asada. I went with the latter. The meat was okay, if a bit dry, but the larger issue was that the strips of meat were kind of lost among the chips. They didn't make a difference. In my opinion, the cheese they used was too crumbly for nachos, but that wasn't a deal-breaker. The red voodoo sauce was not hot. I should have asked for extra hot sauce to spice it up, but they were real busy, and I didn't. I'm not sure how often I'll spring for the full-price version of these but it was a pretty substantial portion and a good value at half-price.

People next to me ordered the guacamole, so I saw it coming out, and it came pretty far up in the molcajete. It was a decent amount of mashed avocado. I didn't notice anywhere on the menu you could get guacamole without ordering the molcajete presentation, but I could have missed it.

On the menu, it confirms the name of the executive chef. The chef is Ben Berryhill, from Texas by way of Charleston.

#3 Pat

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 11:13 AM

They really should have it together better here by now. When you've opened this many restaurants, you don't have much of an excuse. It's seriously disorganized.

I went back to try the Surfer's Choice Nachos [$10 but half price after 5 PM Sundays] Shrimp, Whole Pork, Avocado, Monterrey Pepper Jack, Salsa Verde & Mango Salsa. First, the good news: It is possible to get mashed avocado here without paying $12 for the molcajete. The bad news is that you have to order these nachos to get it. Much of the pork was dried out and stringy. The shrimp, which were mostly buried, were overcooked but not to the point of being irredeemable. The chips on top were burnt. (People next to me got the classic nachos, which seemed to take a long time to come out and were also burnt.)

The tacos are now down to $4 a piece. I almost ordered one but decided to cut my losses.

Even for $5, I'm not sure those nachos were worth it.

#4 Chris Cunningham

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 11:36 AM

We ate here after the Yankees-Nats game which was there second day of service and even preparing for many issues that come with it The space was great and the rooftop bar is awesome. The food and drinks were another story. A sad story. I saw bags of tortilla chips purchased in bulk being brought from a car to the restaurant and then those were "reheated" to be served to us. Table side Guac is becoming very common yet still overpriced at every place... Ours was passable but needed salt and pepper. My Bloody Mary cocktail was in no way anything remotely like a true bloody Maria, as all they do is take a margarita and add a few drops of sangrita ... That's it. IMHO they should have a true Bloody Maria. Our other drinks were ok but I seriously almost walked up to the bar to offer my services for free to show them how to be better There is no excuse for a seasoned owner to allow an opening like this and to be unprepared I'd give it a 4 out of 10 on my first visit and might go back if I ever found myself up that way but it wouldn't ever be on my go to go radar. My prediction is that mediocre food, chips almost as bad as the Worst I've ever had from Ta Queda in Bethesda, and passable drinks at best will be a gold mine only because of location ;)

Chris Cunningham

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Willow Restaurant
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"The problem with the world is that the world is a few drinks behind"

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#5 lindzjax

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 04:17 PM

The food and drink quality at this place is bad enough to make me angry. Angry bc the restaurant so obviously does not care. The space, as everyone has noted, is beautiful and the neighborhood is so excited to have an new outdoor spot that the crowds are continuing to come, seemingly confirming to the management that improving the food is wholly unnecessary. We've tried it a number of times and actually I think the quality has slipped (from a mediocre starting point). The pork tacos which I found to be quite good on our first trip were dry and bland most recently. The breakfast burritos have zero flavor. My husbands refried beans tasted like fish once. Not to mention it is waaay overpriced. We will not be back for a long time.





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