Monday, November 21, 2011

Dining at Distrito

When I arrived at Distrito after a busy weekend of writing papers, my mood brightened. The colorful restaurant on 40th and Chestnut, owned by Iron Chef Jose Garces (he won “The Next Iron Chef), is large and cheerful. The Mexican wrestling masks lining the staircase and whimsical booths with swings as seats assure you this is no ordinary Mexican restaurant. Distrito, short for Distrito Federal, the official name for Mexico City, focuses on modern Mexican food popular in the capital city. Fusion is common and creativity abounds. The menu offers a small section of “tradicionales,” traditional dishes that we barely sampled. I’m sure they’re very good, but there’s no reason to venture in to that section with such unusual offerings. I ate there with a friend and her parents so we had slightly more budgetary flexibility than the average college student. Distrito is reasonable but you must get multiple dishes (most are under $10) and it’s best to share. They also offer promotions on tacos and drinks during football season and a happy hour.

Now it’s time for the food. We were greeted with a plate of spicy peanuts to nibble on as we mulled over the menu. Our helpful waitress, Casey, recommended her favorite dishes and did not steer us wrong. Her two recommendations were some of our favorite dishes of the night.

Our only disappointment, unfortunately, was our very first course (and one of my favorite foods): the guacamole. I know you must be horrified to hear of a Mexican restaurant with dismal guacamole, and I was wary as well. The guacamole, while presented nicely, was overly salty and not tasty. We sent it back to the kitchen and our apologetic waitress returned with an even saltier batch. She claimed that today’s guacamole was not up to par and removed it from our bill. I believe her assertion that the guacamole is usually better, especially after sampling the other food and hope to exonerate it on future visits.

Our next dish was one of the best (and Casey’s first recommendation): a gluten free mushroom huaraches (flatbread) with cheese. It was delicious and flavorful, highlighting the richness of the mushrooms. I plan on ordering it on subsequent trips.

We next ordered savory carnitas tacos with a radish salad on top and a squirt of lime. The taco orders usually contain three but we were able to add a fourth without issue to accommodate our group.

We ordered a corn dish on our waitress' advice (that I forgot to photograph) called esquites with queso fresco, chipotle and lime from the tradicionales section. It was presented in a tall glass where every bite yielded a new level of flavor.

We moved on to mahi mahi tacos which were a master of textures. The crunchy fish, creamy avocado, tart red cabbage salad and chipotle sauce provided several exciting bites. This is another dish I would order over and over again.

Our final savory dish, and Casey’s final recommendation, was another huarache with duck confit, dried cherries and tequila sauce. The huarache tasted luxurious and was very decadent, making me happy that I had people to share with.

Although we were full, our meal needed a sweet finale. We chose to share Los Frios (Casey’s favorite dessert), a dessert composed of vanilla flan, almond cake, compressed mango and dulce de leche. The vanilla flan was the only flan I’ve ever enjoyed in my life. It was creamy and tasty with a smooth texture and lacked the weird aftertaste I associate with flan. The almond cake was more like an almond crouton; it was crunchy and provided the perfect contrast to the flan. The mango added a touch of freshness, and I must confess that we all scraped the last bits of dulce de leche, a caramel made from condensed milk, off of our plates.

Distrito is a great place for a celebratory dinner with its playful ambiance, great service and memorable food. You don’t even need a SEPTA token to visit modern Mexico City.




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