Dish of the Week: Mexicue’s poblano mac & cheese

Media Credit: Anna Boone | Photographer

Mexicue’s poblano mac & cheese is a perfect complement to the restaurant's speciality a la carte tacos.

Mexicue may lack bona fide Mexican dishes, but its menu mashup of Mexican and Southern flavors has customers flocking.

The restaurant started as a food truck in Brooklyn, N.Y. and is now a chain selling purposefully unauthentic dishes inspired by Mexican and Southern bites. The D.C. location opened its doors at 1720 14th St. NW in October and dishes out a la carte tacos, bowls and quesadillas.

Despite being surrounded by popular restaurants like Le Diplomate, Ted’s Bulletin and Compass Rose, Mexicue was overflowing with people and energy last weekend. Once you make your way through the crowded restaurant, you can sit at one of two dining areas or the bar, located at the left corner of the first dining room.

When I walked in, I first noticed a crown-molded ceiling painted lime green. The first dining room has vibrant decorations, like two lighting fixtures with multi-colored bulbs and tropical plants to complement the flashiness of the ceiling. Exposed brick is painted white with accents of the ceiling’s lime green color, and fake greenery forms a square archway just past the bar.

This tropical accent leads guests down a few steps into a second seating area. The tables in this area are wider than the hightop tables in the bar area and each have four upholstered yellow-green chairs. The walls are painted a peachy orange and seafoam green.

Mexicue’s signature items are its a la carte tacos. You can choose between unconventional flavor combinations like a Nashville hot chicken taco ($6.75) with slaw and a chipotle cream, a brisket taco ($6.50) with salsa verde and cotija cheese and a pulled pork taco ($5.50) with corn salsa and crispy tortilla strips.

The menu also offers ‘quesarritos,’ cheese quesadillas that wrap around several fillings like a burrito, bowls and appetizers. The Mexican-Southern fusion can be spotted with most items on the menu, including dishes like grilled cornbread ($7) with chipotle butter, the barbecue pork rice bowl ($8.25) with black beans, corn salsa and Mexican barbecue sauce and the Mexican jambalaya ($8.75) with chorizo, shrimp and smokey chicken.

The dish that stood out to me as Southern comfort with a Mexican twist was the poblano mac & cheese ($7). I grew up in the South, and mac & cheese was a staple at all barbeques and family gatherings. I usually go for a few splashes of hot sauce on my mac & cheese, so I was excited to try Mexicue’s version of the dish with the smokey heat of poblano peppers.

The dish was served in a white ceramic bowl, steaming hot and wafting the rich scent of its creamy cheese sauce. The pasta isn’t the typical macaroni shape but instead another short variety called radiatori, which has a square shape and ruffled edges. With a texture almost as smooth as a queso dip, the cheese sauce smells of the smokey, earthy flavor of poblano peppers.

These peppers, commonly used for dishes like chile rellenos, carry a mild heat that contrasts the dairy. Pickled jalapeno and red chili pepper slices garnish the mac & cheese, adding a small but acidic addition to each bite. I even asked for an extra side of these addicting pickled peppers.

The regular portion of the mac & cheese is $7 and should be supplemented with a taco or two. I tried the lobster taco ($9) with fresh scallion and chipotle butter and the MX green chili braised rib taco ($6.50) with Mexican barbecue sauce and habanero ranch dressing. Guests can also choose to upgrade to a large bowl for $4 extra.

To pair with my mac & cheese, I tried the grapefruit paloma mocktail ($10) with chili hibiscus syrup and lime.

Mexicue also has an extensive menu of cocktails including house drinks that literally spice up a classic cocktail. Its spicy margarita ($13.50) with house-made fireball tequila, jalapeno syrup and habanero bitters comes garnished with a small dried chili. If you’re afraid of heat, drinks like the Frida mezcal ($14.50) with mezcal liquor, ginger hibiscus, pineapple juice and edible flowers are equally satisfying.

Whether you’re familiar with Southern dishes like jambalaya, hot chicken and barbecue or not, Mexicue’s Mexican riffs on dishes like mac & cheese might have you changing your plans for taco Tuesdays.

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