With the goal of giving readers weekend dining inspiration, we’re launching a recurring Friday feature about the best dish we encountered all week. We’re out there eating all the time, and this city is too tasty not to share our findings.
Back in January a husband and wife team opened a vibrant casual Mexican restaurant in Takoma Park. Carolina McCandless and David Perez latched onto the crunchy ethos of the neighborhood, whose residents often lean vegetarian or vegan. (A gentle uprising may or may not have occurred when the co-op grocery store down the street decided to start selling meat.)
Perez’s menu at Cielo Rojo features tacos topped with tender squares of cactus—nopales —and cashew cream instead of a dollop of dairy, for example. But the must-order is the pozole. There’s a chicken version ($15) and a vegan version ($13) of the traditional Mexican soup that both start with the same vegetarian broth.
Hominy is the signature ingredient in pozole. The swollen corn kernels that have gone through the nixtamalization process have a chewy, almost meaty, texture. They deftly absorb the flavors from the salsa that seasons the broth. Perez makes it out of both guajillo and ancho chillies, plus garlic and red wine.
Typical red pozole recipes call for pork. Without the fatty protein to bring lusciousness to the broth, Perez calls on the wine to add depth. “We cook it for a long time so all the flavors fuses together,” he says.
Perez garnishes each bowl with cabbage for added crunch, avocado slices, lime, tortilla strips, fresh oregano, microgreens, and the same cashew cream sauce that the restaurant tops its vegan tacos with.
Cielo Rojo serves the satisfying bowl with a shovel-like spoon. It looks like something a toddler could use to build a sandcastle. The large utensil feels silly until you realize that it helps you build perfect bite after perfect bite, containing all of the ingredients and their various textures.
Perez says the popularity of the dish often depends on the weather. Try it before summer hits and the weather turns soupy.
Cielo Rojo, 7056 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park; (301) 755-0833; cielo-rojo.com