High on a hill in Tenleytown, about 3½ miles north of Georgetown on Wisconsin Avenue, sits the restaurant Guapo’s, where cheesy enchiladas and fajitas sizzle so intensely that their distinct smell stays on clothes after leaving the restaurant, and limitless baskets of chips attract crowds of American University Park residents every weekend.
Tenleytown is the original location of Guapo’s, soon to be joined by a new location on the Georgetown waterfront. I went to the Georgetown location to test whether it lives up to its classic counterpart to the north.
Having grown up in AU Park in Washington, D.C., I have always known Guapo’s as the site for my family’s birthday celebrations every year for the past 25 years. It was the go-to spot when my brothers returned from college and it hosted more than a dozen end-of-season soccer parties. When I broke my wrist in second grade, of course my family went to Guapo’s that night, and my server gave me a bright pink Guapo’s baseball hat as a get-well-soon present. I donned that hat at the beach this summer.
Needless to say, the Guapo’s on Wisconsin Avenue has morphed into a symbol of my childhood. Many celebrations, heartbreaks and reunions were accompanied by an order of Guapo’s chicken fajitas and endless baskets of chips.
Earlier this year, my dad emailed my family — subject line: Guapo’s — a PoPville tweet, which announced Guapo’s opening on the waterfront in Georgetown. My immediate reaction was mixed. On one hand, I was thrilled — all my college friends would be able to experience the magic that is Guapo’s. Yet I was hesitant. How could Guapo’s, the place touted in my mind as my family’s restaurant, be replicated?
Although trained as a news writer for The Hoya, I decided to take the leap into arts and culture to review Guapo’s. In my mind, no other writer would be able to do this Tenleytown staple justice.
I went to the Guapo’s on the waterfront in Georgetown on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in late October, after the restaurant had been open for about two months. My friend and I happened to go to the restaurant when lunch specials apply — between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. — including discounted prices on tortas and tacos.
Upon entering the restaurant, there were about three other tables of diners inside and three outside. We were not thrown off by the vacant tables — it was a Tuesday at 2 p.m., after all. After being greeted by a team of friendly hosts, we were seated at a table next to a window looking onto where the Georgetown ice skating rink would be in the winter months.
Almost immediately after sitting down, we were brought corn tortilla chips and salsa. After that first bite, I knew I was home. The chips and salsa combination was perfect — the chips were not too salty, and the salsa was neither too spicy nor too sweet.
After munching on chips and salsa, I ordered steak and chicken fajitas and an order of carnitas tacos.
The food was brought out in a timely manner, and our waiter, who politely answered our many questions throughout the meal, carefully explained our dishes as he arranged them on the table. Each dish was served with beans and yellow rice.
The order of fajitas was solid. The chicken was tender and had picked up seasoning from the grilled onions that formed the base of the platter. The steak portion of the dish was slightly less impressive. The steak was very chewy, which made it difficult to eat in a taco. My friend and I both agreed that the steak would have been strong had it stood alone, but it didn’t work well in a corn tortilla.
The carnitas tacos were delicious. The taste of the carnitas was complemented well with a tomatillo salsa and onion. My friend and I agreed that although we were not usually lovers of carnitas, the dish was tasty. On the side, we nibbled on chips and salsa and yellow rice throughout the meal, which tasted incredible.
Overall, I was very pleased by the food I ate at Guapo’s. The chips and salsa kept me occupied as I waited for my food, the chicken fajitas were tender and flavorful and the carnitas tacos were a welcomed change up. Yet good food is only half the battle.
The restaurant, though very clean and well organized, lacked character. The Guapo’s I am used to has colorful paintings hung on the walls, a tortilla maker in the back and the servers coming out periodically with shakers to sing “Happy Birthday” to guests. The Guapo’s on the waterfront was very plain — my lunch companion noted it felt corporate. The food was delectable, the servers were friendly and it was pleasant sitting by the waterfront. I missed, however, the atmosphere of the Wisconsin Avenue Guapo’s.
As a college student, going out to dinner usually means I strive for either cheap eats or a hip environment, preferably both. The food was solid, but the environment was nothing special, and the food was a tad pricey. Nothing made this location particularly special.
Unless this location spices up their interior, the next time I’m craving Mexican, I am inclined to make the trip to the location on Wisconsin Ave. Perhaps I’m biased, but I appreciated the Tenleytown Guapo’s for its hectic, perfectly imperfect feel. The formality of the Georgetown Guapo’s feels wrong.