I wandered down Connecticut Avenue looking for a new place to get lunch, and stumbled upon Muchas Gracias. It’s a narrow storefront formerly occupied by a pizza carry-out place, squeezed in between Buck’s and Sugar Fox, the Little Red Fox ice cream and cupcake shop. It seems Muchas Gracias had been open for about a month, most of which I’ve been away. See the last 10 or 15 posts.
The lunch menu on that first trip included five burritos at $12 each ($14 for the short rib barria), chips and salsa and guacamole, and tres leches cake. I was in the mood for something spicy, and ordered the chorizo con papas burrito. My order was ready in perhaps five minutes. I found a shaded bench outside the nearby Center for Family Well Being, and sat down to eat.
The burrito is not excessively large, and it came cut in half, which is a good idea. Take a look at this somewhat alarming close-up.
That’s a pretty startling view, but it shows that the burrito was mostly meat with some bean filler for balance. That’s a nice bit of chorizo, isn’t it? As you can see the meat was completely crumbled, rather than in chunks, but I can live with that. The chorizo, however, was surprisingly — amazingly — bland, and thus a disappointment: a shock, really. Seasoning was largely missing, markedly so compared even to supermarket chorizo. All that red stuff does threaten to stain your clothes. There was none of the thoughtfulness of the seasoning of the taco fillings at Taqueria Xochi up the street.
The burrito came with some hot sauce whose name
offers a stark contrast to the cheery note set by the name, “Muchas Gracias”. And the sentiment seems off in a neighborhood that flourishes wonderfully, thanks to el systema, and where many neighborhood residents help shape and define el systema.
The poor seasoning that defined the lunch was especially surprising because Muchas Gracias uses relatively sophisticated ingredients — “nixtamalized corn” (I looked it up: it’s just masa harina), epazote, nopales, and grasshoppers, for example — as shown on their much more elaborate dinner and patio menus. And they have wines from Baja California. I just read something enthusiastic about wines from Baja.
My first trip thus was a big disappointment. I am a great believer in second chances, however, having needed a boatload of second chances myself, and went back the following week to try something else. The lunch menu had been pared to three Burritos of the Day: one chicken, one meat, and one vegetable. The meat option was serendipitous for me. I had aimed at the Carnitas Chihuahua, which had been described on the dinner menu as
Slow cooked pork Norteño style with a lot of garlic!
An exclamation point after the word garlic is a siren song to my heart. And Norteño style means that it’s cooked with citrus, as is the Cuban lechon asado that I love so much. Here’s the carnitas burrito:
Apoligies for the picture. I know, I know. I should have taken my time and picked a better background, etc., but it was going on 2:00 and I wanted to eat. You can see in there, if you can zoom in, a ribbon of pork, some rice, black bean puree, guacamole, and some pico de gallo verde — or that may be part of the guacamole. The burrito was flavorful, with citrus from the braising and from the guacamole/pico de gallo. And the burrito was priced during Restaurant Week at $10, a sum at which we scoff here in DC, and it was accompanied by a complimentary glass of hibiscus-flavored aqua fresca, which tasted fine.
The burrito had flavor and was filling; indeed, it was utterly dominated by the filling. It contained precious little pork, and that notionally great pork flavor was lost in the shuffle. I again tried some of the hot sauce, and again found it hot but unhelpful. I’d compare it to a loud, stupid, even annoying person. In a bar. You may be able to think of someone like that.
Again, there are some very positive things about Muchas Gracias, and I feel that it should be a lot better than it is. And kudos to Muchas Gracias for supporting some food-related charities for needy immigrants. But as a restaurant, they have some serious issues to iron out. I hope, really hope, that they will succeed. If they reach their apparent potential, they’ll be a great addition to the neighborhood. Meanwhile, for a much better (and tastier) dedicated way to support immigrant workers, see here. And for much more sophisticated and more practiced regional cuisine from Mexico head on up the Avenue to Taqueria Xochi.
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