04 Mar 2010

Things We Take for Granted: Tortilla Cafe


Photo courtesy of Tortilla Cafe

So, there was this post on DCist yesterday outlining where one might find “real” California-style tacos.  This came on the heels of Chris Bertish’s epic win at Mavericks on February 13th, which had me glued to my monitor watching the live stream of the guys slaying waves with 50-foot faces and trying to catch glimpses of the sleepy Northern California beach town I at one point called home. The combination was too much to take, especially after all the damn snow, and I had a serious nostalgia-induced craving for real tacos. Nothing fancy; not much more than meat in a tortilla with a squeeze of lime.   There used to be a little place down the road a bit in Half Moon Bay where they got the fish for the tacos right off the boats coming into Pillar Point Harbor. (Not to be confused with the most awesome Taco Bell ever, which was also nearby.)  Obviously, that’s not the kind of thing I’m going to find here in DC, but meat in a tortilla should be easy.

I put out the call to the folks following me on twitter initially lamenting the lack of taco options close to home on the Hill. But leave it to DC blog commenter extraordinaire Monkeyrotica to have my back and recommend Tortilla Cafe on 7th Street SE, across from Eastern Market.

What’s weird is, I’ve been to Tortilla Cafe a million times. When I first moved to the Hill, I’d rush home from work to grab dinner before they closed.  I’m definitely not a regular, but I’m familiar enough with their menu that it seemed odd to me that I’d never just ordered their tacos. But, with Monkey’s endorsement (and a quick scan of Yelp) I decided to go over and grab lunch and see for myself.

I won’t spend any time discussing the whole “no real Mexican food in DC” thing. We make up for it in loads of other ways, but sometimes you want a taco – and a pupusa platter, no matter how delicious, just isn’t going to do it. I got a fish (tilapia), a chicken, and a steak (this was going to be both my lunch and dinner) and headed home to eat them at my desk; perhaps with a Pacifico or two fished out of the depths of my crisper. (Don’t judge me on where I keep my beer.)  I was really impressed with the amount of meat in each taco – well worth the 4ish bucks each one cost. The tilapia was fried with a jalapeño breading that I enjoyed and the steak and chicken had a nice flavor. These are not award-winners by any stretch, but I was happily surprised by how adequate they were.

I’m not moving back to California any time soon. But when nostalgia strikes, I’m happy to know there’s someplace close to home where I can pick up a couple of tacos and go home and grab a beer from the crisper and pretend I’m watching the sun set over the ice-cold Pacific. Then I can open my eyes and talk to people who haven’t been stoned for the better part of the last 25 years (or high on fumes from too much time shaping boards in poorly ventilated sheds) and have a conversation that doesn’t center on the day’s catch, the swells up at Lindamar or the pumpkin harvest this year.

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4 responses to “Things We Take for Granted: Tortilla Cafe”

  1. Kyra Deblaker-Gebhard says:

    I only recently discovered Tortilla Cafe. We have always picked a Prego sandwich over any other option at the market. Their food is really very good and the service is remarkable. I don’t think the two women working the counter ever have a bad day. And sometimes nice makes all the difference.

    PS- We keep beer in our crisper as well! It gets very, very cold in there!

  2. monkeyrotica says:

    The only bad meal I’ve ever had at Tortilla Coast was the “cuban sandwich” which was basically a pork chop on a bun. Everything else has been pretty tasty. They also do a suprisingly good burger. And the fajita salad is a fairly obscene amount of food. My favorite is probably the Yucca y Chicharrones: deepfried hunks of pork butt and a side of steak fry slabs of yucca. It’s like pork rinds with the pig still attached. The Chicken Tortilla on 8th Street is closer to me, but I almost always end up going to Tortilla Coast when I get a taco jones.

    The Canales also run the meat market in Eastern Market and are the ONLY place in town to get Mangers Halfsmokes to take home (the kind they use at Ben’s Chili Bowl). Nice buncha people.

  3. Elizabeth Festa says:

    Forget tortillas–I am now redirected to Half Moon Bay real estate pages! The surf competition commentators do seem a bit stoned, though.

  4. Kevin says:

    Tortilla Coast is a different place than Tortilla Cafe at Eastern Market. I’ve been going to Tortilla Cafe for many years and it is one of my favorite places in DC. The fish tacos are packed and the shrimp fajitas beat most restaurants. This place is a gem, great food, great prices, and some of the nicest people behind the counter.

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