Filling in for the dearly departed Sesto Senso, Lupe Cantina is the newest Mexican spot to hit Dupont Circle. Brought to us by folks behind the neighboring Public Bar (below, left), Lupe ventures into a part of town that seems to have become a restaurant black hole. On a block wedged between a business district (Farragut) and residential neighborhood (Dupont), restaurants (California Pizza Kitchen, etc.) seem to easily slip into the dark vortex of empty tables and subsequently shuttered windows. With a fun bar scene and a modern Mexican menu, Lupe Cantina would surely like to outlive its predecessors.
Walking through the front door, I was surprised at the large space hidden behind the tiny 18th storefront. The crowd was fairly sparse for a Saturday night and we were told to seat ourselves. With lots of space around the bar and plenty of rail space, Lupe seems like a very fitting option for Happy Hour. The dimly-lit restaurant was accented by brightly covered walls...oh yeah...and a lively mariachi band (below).
We started right off with a margarita, guacamole and the crispy chicken taquitos (below). The taquitos were tasty but the flavors were all indiscernibly muddled together, with most bites overshadowed by the drowning sour cream. All things considered, it was more than good enough for us to polish off every last crumb.
Angela ordered the pork chops (below), which were marinated in habanero and garlic and served beside a house salad. I had completely forgotten she had ordered the pork when the entrees arrived, and based on the smells emanating from her plate, proceeded to ask her how the fish was. Neither of us had ordered fish. Angela agreed on the smell, and quickly traced it to the pork, which also tasted like fish. Neither of us could figure out, for the life of us, why it smelled and tasted like fish. The taste was so strongly and uniquely fishy I examined the pork chops several times to make sure we'd gotten the right dish, but each time, I was visually reassured that the meat's origin was not of the sea.
We even asked our server if maybe it had been cooked on the same grill as seafood. She returned from the kitchen moments later to tell us that wasn't possible. Perhaps it was just seasoned in a way that made it taste like seafood. As we got deeper into the meal, curiousity gave way to suspicion, and even though the taste was not objectionable, concern soon trumped intrigue (a quick fear-inducing google search when we later got home would suggest that the most probable cause for pork tasting fishy was that it had gone bad).
The other half of our entrees proved far more successful. The chile relleno (below) was stuffed with flavorful ground beef, golden raisins, nuts, garlic and caramelized onions. The beef tasted like beef, and the compenents all stood out in a bold yet complementary way.
After the whole Lupe Fiasco we went home and waited for the inevitable food-borne illness. To the restaurant's credit, it never came, and that fishy smell remains an unsolved food mystery. Maybe Lupe's seasonings really do make their pork taste like fish? The pork incident kind of threw a shadow over the entire meal, but the other dishes were fine. That being said, the fun atmosphere and drinks, and decent prices may be enough to ensure Lupe's survival.