The best Mexican food is messy, delicious and inventive. Unlike many other types of cuisine, Mexican food is at its greatest when it isn’t fussy and when it allows diners to get their hands a little dirty and have some fun. Criosaccomplishes all of this — and more — with ease. And yet when my roommate and I walked into the restaurant Sunday night, it was empty. There was a lone table with patrons in the back left corner and emptiness everywhere else, with a group of aimless waiters congregating around the bar just barely audible over the music.
Crios, a modern Mexican restaurant founded by the same sisters who founded Jenny’s Asian Fusion in Southwest and Scion just down the street, opened earlier this year, but it seems to not have draw the clientele it deserves. Perhaps this has a little to do with limited word of mouth and the general skepticism this side of the country displays toward Mexican food. I firmly believe, however, that with just a few more open minds and mouths, the well-decorated interior of Crios will fill with new and frequent diners quickly.
Rather than strictly adhering to the basics of Mexican cuisine, Crios succeeds by riffing off Mexican classics with some fun and often surprising flourishes. Take the decor, for example: Instead of sticking to the overplayed but ubiquitous faux-Mexican influenced decor — sombreros on the walls and cactuses strategically placed around the room — Crios instead opts for a stripped down yet lively modern interior. There are neon footprints on the floor and local impressionist art on the wall, all seemingly brought together by the vibrant, eclectic music playing in the background.
When I visited this weekend, I had already worked up a considerable appetite. It was one of those days with which I’m sure most college students are familiar, one in which it seems every force in our lives is working to dash our hopes of a decent meal. So when I finally sat down at my table, it was with intent. Luckily, my server quickly picked up on my hunger, and it took only a moment to order from the menu — the contents of which I’d practically memorized online beforehand.
The menu is straightforward and divided into six major sections: bocaditos (snacks/appetizers),ensaladas y sopas (salads and soups), especiales de la casa (house specialties), tacos and enchiladas. However, these simple and somewhat traditional headers belie the fanciful food Crios has created for its patrons. This doesn’t become obvious immediately because the meal begins with a traditional — albeit delicious — serving of corn chips with house pico de gallo and salsa. But as soon as my two sets of tacos arrived, I knew I was in for a treat. Despite the pull to be excited over Dr. Pepper carnitas and buffalo chicken tacos, I tried to temper my expectations. When all of the food was laid out on the table before me, however, my reservations evaporated instantly. The food looked, smelled and tasted delicious.
The Dr. Pepper carnitas tacos are understated, simultaneously savory and sweet with subtle hints to the soda referred to in their name, while the buffalo chicken tacos are bold and full of competing textures and flavors. Regardless, they both are satisfying. The rice and beans are equally delicious but serve more as a bridge between each taco than as standalone entrees. This isn’t a knock againstCrios; in fact, it just makes the meal in its entirety more enjoyable and represents yet another reason to return the next time I can sneak away to Dupont Circle.
For now, Crios is a delightful secret that I selfishly hope stays that way just a little longer. But with food of its quality, I doubt it will keep from getting out.