02 Jul 2012

First Bite: Pacifico Cantina

Yes, it was good. Photo by author.

While it may not keep pace with H Street NE, Barracks Row has its fair share of eateries opening lately.  Last weekend saw the grand opening of Pacifico Cantina.  Next door to Belga Cafe, the new Tex-Mex restaurant and bar may be already best known for its massive roof deck; but there is also a decent offering of food to compliment what may become a very popular bar scene.

The interior of the dining room is washed with bright teals, oranges, and yellows – contrasting the hardwood furniture and bar.  While there are lots of seats on the open-air roof deck and some under awnings at street level, we opted for air conditioning this past weekend and settled in for an attempt at brunch.  Parents should note there is a small children’s menu and high chairs are available.  I’ve had a few neighbors and friends venture to the Cantina in the past week, returning with good and bad reviews that seemed to cancel each other out (frozen margaritas and house salsa got thumbs down, tacos and happy hour specials got thumbs up).  Brunch was not part of any of their experiences, so in my mind we went with a clean slate.

We were seated quickly and service was efficient and pretty friendly.  Even though we were told by multiple staff members they were having some “computer issues,” our wait time for food was not excessive.  I was refreshed with my frothy classic margarita on the rocks – it was generous and thirst-quenching without being overly sour or sweet.  My daughter’s lemonade was a bit too watery – it was either homemade and done wrong or not mixed correctly with the pre-made stuff behind the bar.

The brunch menu has some standard offerings with south-of-the-border twists.  French toast comes with fried plantains, and straightforward scrambled eggs arrive with chorizo and refried beans, in lieu of bacon and toast.  We ordered the huevos rancheros, which were spicy in the bold and awakening sense, not the “burn your mouth off” sense.  One of the two eggs could have been a little less firm to better mix with the other items on the plate, but that was a minor issue.  My breakfast enchilada came stuffed with tender chicken and topped with fried eggs, and served with refried beans and rice.  It, too, had a nice kick without overpowering the flavor of the food itself.  From the kids menu we ordered the chicken flautas.  An order arrives with two larger-than-eggroll-size flautas and dipping portions of guacamole and queso dipping sauce.  The flautas were definitely a hit, though the cheese sauce may be a tad too spicy (hot) for the under 12 set. They could be a tad less greasy, but the filling was creamy and just warm enough to please the little one.

The menu features an assortment of tacos ordered à la carte and a few side dishes as well.  Lunch and dinner offer a pretty standard assortment of Tex-Mex starters and entrées, including nachos, quesadillas, fajitas and burritos.  Several types of tequila and eight or so draft beers complement a drink menu of cocktails, wine, sangria and, of course, margaritas.  Happy hour food or drink specials can be found from 5pm until closing, Sunday through Wednesday.

I would definitely return to Pacifico Cantina to try another meal, although I would suggest that the establishment invest in the ubiquitous plastic cups with lids for kids (the heavy cocktail glasses made me nervous).  The risk of breakage aside, brunch was a very pleasant experience.  Yes, there are other establishments you can visit within a block or two that also offer tacos and fajitas (some with more authentic Latin food), but the food at Pacifico Cantina is worth more than a passing glance as you head up to see and be seen on the roof deck.

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10 responses to “First Bite: Pacifico Cantina”

  1. Caroline says:

    I’ve only been there for drinks, but I heard the food and service were terrible– most of the staff has zero restaurant experience. I hope your mostly-positive review means they’re worked out some of the initial kinks. The menu sounds great, but I’ve been afraid to try the food given the prices and what I’ve heard about it.

  2. Christopher72 says:

    I’ve heard really bad reviews about the food, but when we went, I was pleased with what I had ordered. I had chicken flautas and a pork quesadilla. Both were very good. I agree with the thumbs down for the house salsa, but I would definitely go back.

  3. So my partner and I have been two times. The first was during their initial ‘opening’ on Father’s day Sunday. The food was OK but the service was awful; it wasn’t that the people were rude, but it was VERY obvious that no one had an idea what was going on. Everything took too long and we would spend 20 minutes or more waiting for a drink or even a refill on water. When they decided to shut down the next day and stay closed for the better part of a week, we knew why.

    The second time was last weekend and it was a MUCH better experience. The food isn’t cheap exactly but it is tasty and reasonable depending on what you are ordering. $20 for two enchiladas is a lot, but $12 for a big shrimp quesadilla is pretty good, as is $12 for a huge burrito.

    Odd question though, the first time we went the waitress made out like the chips and salsa were given to us to ‘make up’ for service issues. This past time, we ordered guac. So i’m a little confused as to whether chips & salsa are normally free…anyone?

  4. Christopher Dove says:

    I’ve only been once since the opening and will reiterate what others have said. Service is slow and the food mediocre. We went on a weeknight (either Tues or Wed) night and sat at the bar. The place was not too busy–I counted six other people on our side of the bar– but it took forever for the bartender to even acknowledge we were sitting there. We were never offered the “complimentary first round of salsa” Apparently you have to pay for anything more than one bowl. We both ordered 2 of $5 taco happy hour specials and a margarita half pitcher. Our food came pretty quickly, and they were just ok. Grilled chicken with some vegetables and a side of corn served in one of those stainless stell cups that most other restaurants provide for a side of ketchup or mayo. Perhaps the service and food will get better over time, but for now, I’ll choose Mi Vecindad over by Frager’s. It doesn’t have the expensive interior or roof deck, but the owner and staff are much friendlier, make sure your meal is perfect and you are well taken care of, complete with a complimentary tequila shot with the bill.

  5. DC_person says:

    Went once and while the food we ordered was good, I did think it was overpriced. The drinks not so much. It is bad when you have to send back a pitcher of margarittas 3 times because it just is not worth the $56 they charged for it. Ridiculous that you have to pay for the chips and salsa refill especially since others have noted the salsa is not good at all.

  6. Went on a weekend. The food was decent, but the portions seemed tiny compared to Banana Cafe down the street. AND they overcharged us. We ordered nachos and sangria, which were supposed to be half-priced. When the waiter brought the check, we pointed out the error. He gave us a new receipt showing the discount, but then when my husband checked his credit card statement, it showed that they had charged us the full amount. WE WILL NOT BE GOING BACK.

  7. wmichaeljones says:

    When is this neighborhood going to learn? Xavier Cervera’s restuarants suck and have awful service. How someone can open so many restaurants and still have these inexcusable kinks is beyond me. Anyone who eats too frequently at his places is getting ripped off and only asking for more neighborhood dining mediocrity.

    BUT…in this case, I’m giving Xavier a free pass. That roof deck is fantastic and a very welcome addition to Barrack’s Row nightlife! Just skip the food and go for the drinks. The bartenders on the roof have all been very nice.

  8. Sarah says:

    No Mr. Jones, you suck! His restaurants have been a great addition to the hill and he is a hill resident that has put forth a lot of effort. So what if the new place is working out the kinks. Its crazy busy and I am sure that this has had an effect on all aspects of opening. Your comments are ignorant

  9. The_Dash says:

    I’ll actually give them a pass for a few weeks to work out the service-related kinks that you’ll encounter in any new restaurant. The space is beautiful and the roofdeck is a welcome addition to the Hill.

    Unfortunately, the menu looked full of promise, but the execution on the food is poor at best. This is supposed to be Mexican food for crying out loud – where’s the flavor? The salsa is not much more than blended tomatoes. Give us some cilantro, onions, heat, whatever…just make it taste like something. The tacos are very small (espcially for $5 each) and unfortunately, what they lack in size, they do not make up in flavor.

    I’m sure I’ll check it out again at some point to see if I can find anything else that tastes remotely Mexican, but I’m not rushing back to do it.

  10. I ended up stopping in for dinner last night and was pleasantly surprised. La Plaza is still my favorite tex mex-type place on the SE side of the Hill but the roof at Pacifico will definitely bring me back. The margarita was decent, the queso dip was good (although the chips were greasy), and my quesadilla (barbacoa and pineapple) was pretty tasty. I thought the tacos were a bit small for the price since they don’t come with any sides, but overall the prices didn’t seem bad at all. We skipped the roof deck since it was so hot yesterday but I’m looking forward to getting up there soon.

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