401 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20004 (202) 628-1005
Dined on November 6, 2013
When I arrived at Oyamel I was displeased at the very loud noise level. I had reservations so we were seated immediately. My companion and I were shown to a tiny table, on the lower level, located on the aisle and directly in front of a bar. Ugh! I absolutely was not sitting at that table. It was so tiny, I knew all our food would not fit. Dumb idea for a small plates restaurant to have such tiny tables plus my companion has broad shoulders. He would get bumped into all night if we sat there. I immediately asked the hostess if we could be seated elsewhere. She was very kind, and accommodating. We were told to have a seat at the main bar and they would re-seat us in a moment. Sure enough in about 3 minutes we were seated in a booth. The booth was on the same lower level but a wall of sorts wrapped around us shielding out the noise and the table could seat five people. Ahhh! Now I could relax and hopefully enjoy my meal.
I had been wanting to try Oyamel for some time because I am a fan of Jose Andres' Jaleo. I read a lot of Oyamel Yelp reviews and walked away with the impression that people really love Oyamel for happy hour, their margaritas, and the guacamole made at the table. Very few reviewers were ecstatic about the food. The same sentiment on Urbanspoon.
Spoiler Alert: This is exactly my impression of Oyamel. The food is okay, nothing spectacular, nothing to make you return for just the food.
Of what we ate, there were a few delicious dishes. I am a fan of small plate/tapas-style dining or in the case of Oyamel "antojitos" for little dishes from the streets.
Complimentary salsa & chips: The chips are good and our second batch was warm. The red salsa made with smokey chipotle chiles has just the right amount of heat, and is flavorful.
Guacamole: Yes, it is fresh. Yes it is good. It is not the best guacamole I've ever eaten but it is a must order item. At $13.50 I think it is the most expensive guacamole and chips I've ever had. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Gaspacho (salad) estilo Morelia: a salad of seasonal fruit (mango, grapefruit, orange), jicama root, cucumbers, queso fresco and chile pequín. The salad was very refreshing, the fruit was firm, and juicy; nothing mushy. I would order this on each visit to Oyamel. Very nice starter and is a nice change from all the 'salty' foods and heavier dishes. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Elote con calabazitas: Sautéed sweet corn, baby zucchini, & serrano peppers with Mexican cream, queso fresco & chile pequin. Meh! Don't waste your money or calorie allotment. It is not that flavorful or special. Sounds much better than it is. I was surprised how small a portion it was compared to the other dishes we had received thus far. Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Enchilada Placeras: House-made corn tortillas filled w/ spiced beef, pickled chayotes, a roasted tomato salsa, red onions and radishes. My dining companion liked this.
Pescado con mostaza: Very tasty blackened grouper, roasted tomato and pasilla de Oaxaca chile salsa, pickled mustard seed purée and pickled mustard seeds. The grouper alone, away from the salsa and mustard seed puree, was excellent. Made me long for an entire piece of blackened grouper fish as an entree. The salsa served with the grouper was good, the mustard seed puree was even better. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Pescado Mexicano/fish taco: Seared fish with salsa Mexicana and a tangy cilantro pesto. Translation: A lot of mediocre flavored green stuff, and a teeny-tiny piece of fish. Pass on this item. There was only a small bite of fish in the small tortilla; the piece of fish was no more than one and three-quarter inches long! At least put enough fish to extend through the tortilla. Note tacos are $4 per taco and one order is 1 taco. Rating: don't bother ordering
Cochinita pibíl con cebolla en escabeche/pork taco: Yucatan-style pit barbecued Shenandoah Valley pork with Mexican sour orange and pickled red onion. I did not taste this but my friend said it was okay. He said he would order it again.
Note: My ratings for the individual food items are within the context of the food at Oyamel that I ate.
The staff pushed alcohol a lot. We kept saying no but they kept asking and pointing out alcohol drink menus and specials. At the main bar, while waiting to be seated the bartender looked visibly surprised when I ordered "unsweetened ice tea" and stuttered slightly upon repeating my order.
The hostess was very nice, polite, and accommodating. Our waitress was adequate.
Ambiance: The open dining concept makes for a very loud noise level at Oyamel. The space's dining room design doesn't seem to incorporate any sound baffling.
Do I recommend Oyamel? Sure. Small plate restaurants are fun for groups and friends, sharing food, and trying out different dishes. Is it the type of place I'd return to often? No.The food isn't standout fare.
Eat, drink, be merry and validate for parking (TM)