El Presidente

Washington D.C., United States

+3 more
Price level

Expert recommendation

Let’s be honest: DC is not a city for great Mexican food. If that is what you are looking for, you go to New York, Philadelphia, maybe Chicago, and obviously LA … or better, you catch a flight to Mexico City. But over the last 15 years, DC has seen its food scene evolve dramatically, from steak and potatoes to almost any cuisine you could think of. One of the leading faces of that change has been Jose Andres. More recently, Stephen Starr has pushed the envelope, first with Le Diplomate and then St. Anselm. One thing Starr’s places have in common is that they make you feel like you enter a restaurant designed by Disney; there is an avalanche of color or, to a degree, stereotypes (think of Le Diplomate and its many references to what Americans would think of when they think of a French bistro, no matter how much that has in common with reality). But one would be wrong to judge these restaurants by their cover (which usually are stunning, if not over the top). What Starr is able to do, is to back up the design with amazing food and experiences. El Presidente (just a block down from St. Anselm in the Union Market neighborhood) is his take on Mexico. What Le Diplomate is to Paris, El Presidente is to Mexico City. By making this more about a city than a cuisine, Starr is able to have a bit more room to experiment on the food side and not have to be dragged down the “authentic” debate. El Presidente is stunning. The colors, the decor, it all bests Le Diplomate (and I would not have thought that was possible). But as with Le Diplomate, El Presidente doesn’t end up being a nice shell; the cocktails, the tequila and mezcal selection, the service, and the food are all backing it up. Now, is it true, authentic Mexican as you would find on the streets of Mexico City? No. But that is not the point here. The point is a place that you will have an amazing time at. And the food will still be the star of the evening. I would definitely order the Salsas and Dips (a huge plate with five salsas plus guac) and the Hamachi Aguachile. The Crab Tostada is another standout. There is the Instagram-friendly Tacos Al Carbon (build your own) that can be shared by several people. But if you want a ready-made taco, I would suggest the Black Cod Al Pastor. Lastly, especially in times when many restaurants have a hard time finding staff, it says a lot that Starr is able to attract amazing staff. Silvia, our server, was amazing, as were all the other staff who helped us. While the food, drinks, and decor all make we want to come back, this is also a place where the staff is so nice that you want to go back — and that is a rare thing these days.

1255 Union St NE, Washington, DC 20002, USA

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