The wife and I stopped by Taqueria Distrito Federal II late last night, just in time to grab some tacos, a chicken milanese torta, and some face time with owner Luis Marroquin, who opened his second restaurant this summer in the Petworth neighborhood where he lives. He was sitting on one of the shiny new counter stools, next to his two daughters (including Jacqueline, named after the former First Lady whom Marroquin admired). The owner, a native Salvadorian, explained how he choose this semi-blighted stretch of Kennedy Street for his taqueria.
Every year, he says, he buys himself a Christmas gift, but last year he didn’t follow through on that annual ritual. Then one day he was driving along Kennedy Street, and he noticed a for sale sign on a run-down piece of commercial property. He inquired about the spot and learned it used to be, many years ago, a Chinese restaurant, later transformed into a Salvadoran joint. The property owner wanted to sell Marroquin the business for a steep price and then lease him the space. Marroquin thought the asking price was, shall we say, a little over-the-top for a business that was no longer in operation, had no built-in clientele, and was essentially a pit. So they negotiated a deal to satisfy all parties.
Marroquin suddenly had himself a Christmas gift: another restaurant to run.
TDF II sticks out like a U.S. Federal Marshal on a city sidewalk (which I actually saw today on Kennedy Street). The operation, festooned with flapping pennants and painted in the primary colors of the Mexican flag, immediately catches your eye as you drive down the graying, decaying street, which Marroquin claims is set to rebound, much like the Columbia Heights ‘hood where his original taqueria is located. It’s hard to imagine, at present, that kind of rebirth for Kennedy, but who knows.
For now, TDF II is a welcome addition to a Petworth neighborhood that still struggles for decent dining options. The menu is exactly the same as the one in Columbia Heights, which is just fine by me. My goat taco was a supreme expression of that humble snack—moist, savory shredded meat wrapped in two-ply corn tortillas, topped with diced onions, radish slivers, cilantro, and hot sauce, then squirted with a healthy dose of lime juice. Mexican-style tacos don’t get much better for $2.50, except, of course, when you can get three for $5, which you can now at the new taqueria.
I even liked that cultural cross-dresser, the chicken Milanese torta, which featured breaded white meat topped with strips of fresh cheese and slathered with a thin bean paste. When pressed between the bread, the ingredients made for some pleasing contradictions—-dense and springy, earthy and light.
Marroquin says he has no plans to pursue a liquor license for his Petworth operation, so it can maintain its family focus, but he’s toying with a plan to add beer and wine to the Columbia Heights location. But only, he says, if he places a limit on the number of drinks a customer can order.
I suspect Marroquin prefers his risks to be the economic kind, not the drunken, two-fisted kind.