At Whit’s End: Keeping Mexican food authentic in D.C.

I’m a Southern gal. Not so much a bouffant hair, Texas twang, pageant-queen Southern gal, but more of a deep frying, country music loving, God-Bless-Texas sort of Southern gal. Case in point, my last trip home was spent at the rodeo, soaking up the livestock show, the live music and, most importantly, the food.

Down in the South we have food that prompted my roommate to marvel at my ability to stay thin after her first trip through Louisiana: chicken fried steak, pickles dipped in chocolate, fried Twinkies, 3-pound turkey legs, barbecue, chicken and waffles and, of course, Mexican food.

At home, Mexican food is authentic – little hole-in-the-wall restaurants and shacks off the side of the road offer up traditional Mexican dishes, homemade chips and guacamole, and margaritas that I crave when I’m in D.C. – a no man’s land for Mexican food.

So when my friends suggested we try Alero, a Mexican restaurant with locations in Dupont, Columbia Heights, Cleveland Park and on U Street, I was cautiously optimistic – Mexican food anywhere north of the panhandle makes me nervous, but considering the last enchilada I had was out of an Amy’s box, I was game.

The Alero in Dupont is small and cramped, with narrow walkways in between tables that are consistently occupied, especially during happy hour. It offers sizzling plates of fajitas, baskets of crispy, homemade tortilla chips and fishbowl-size margaritas that had a few of us stumbling on the walk back home.

Being snobbish about my Mexican food, I was skeptical of my roommate’s love for the guac, and found that an enchilada without red sauce is really just a tortilla smothered in cheese, but the salsa has a kick, the atmosphere is festive and it’s enough to keep me coming back.

Alero might not have the authentic feel of the restaurants I’m used to back home, but it’s the closest I’ve found so close to the Mason-Dixon Line.

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