Carry-Out Critic finds Quesabirria and salty drinks at Taqueria Xochi
Taqueria Xochi is a woman-owned Mexican take-out restaurant in Shaw. Owners Therese Padilla and Geraldine Mendoza based Taqueria Xochi after being furloughed at the start of the pandemic. Xochi started out in a police station kitchen in Capitol Heights before its founders began running a pop-up concept at Little Beast in the summer of 2020. Padilla and mendoza went on to open their first brick-and-mortar take-out restaurant on 9th Street NW in October 2020. .
Taqueria Xochi (pronounced “so-chee”) is named after the Xochitecatl ruins near Padilla’s hometown of San Jose Teacalco, Mexico. Padilla worked for several years at Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup restaurants, and after being relocated due to COVID-19, Padilla took the opportunity to pursue her dream of bringing traditional Mexican cuisine to the DC area. She then partnered with Mendoza, the Operations Manager, and Taqueria Xochi was born. They plan to open a second location in Crystal City by the end of the year.
This U Street spot is a bit of a hidden gem. While it’s in a popular area, a covered street with a nearby restaurant blocks its view from the road. The bright pink and blue exposed brick will definitely catch your eye if you walk around. A neon sign displays the restaurant’s name above the storefront. Its window displays its menu with a serape, a traditional Mexican blanket, draped behind it. Customers place and collect orders at two counters. An employee-only entrance features the company logo, a sketch of Padilla.
Xochi’s menu is synonymous with authenticity. Antojitos are their starters along with classics like fries and salsa, guacamole, nachos and street corn cups. Cemitas are Puebla-style sandwiches with a choice of fried chicken or beef cutlet milanesa, Oaxaca cheese, avocado, yellow onions, refried beans, mayonnaise, and sliced tomatoes. Tortas are another sandwich option, assembled with shredded pork or birria, and various toppings to pair with each. A mild salsa verde made with tomatillos and a smoky salsa morita made with dried chiles are served as an accompaniment to all dishes on the menu.
Xochi’s most popular menu item is their quesabirria, and that was also my favorite. Birria is a braised meat dish that has rapidly gained popularity in the United States in recent years. Cook the lamb or beef and simmer it slowly in a broth seasoned with rehydrated dried peppers, vinegar, spices, onions and garlic. The meat is then shredded and served in its braising liquid, called consommé.
The quesabirria won everyone over when it made its way to the United States. The juicy shredded meat is added on tortillas and topped with Chihuahua cheese. The cooks then fold the tortillas and sear them on a griddle until the cheese is melted, making it a kind of quesadilla birria. A cup of consommé is served on the side for dipping the quesabirria, like a Mexican take on a French dip sandwich. If you are a fan of this, it is imperative that you try this one! I’ve had my fair share of quesabirria, and Xochi is in my top 2. But they’re not number 2!
You can’t go to a Mexican restaurant without ordering tacos. Xochi has nine to choose from, served three per order and garnished with fresh cilantro, diced white onions and lime wedges. Name your favorite taco topping and they’ll have it. From carne asada to shredded chicken, to some vegetarian options like mushrooms, cactus, or refried beans, there’s a taco option for every palate.
“Our lengua tacos are very underrated,” says Mendoza. Lengua is beef tongue, so it’s understandable why some diners might initially be skeptical. The beef tongue cooks gently and slowly for several hours until softened. The outer skin is peeled off, leaving a tender piece of meat. The cooks then cut the meat into pieces and sear it on a flat grill before serving. Please don’t be a punk by skipping this one. The beef tongue was very tasty, almost melting in my mouth. A dash of lime juice brightens up the flavor a bit, but wasn’t necessary. Yes, I would order it again and again.
Mulitas are another popular dish on the menu. It reminded me of a miniature quesadilla made with a corn tortilla instead of flour. The toppings for these are similar to their taco options, with seven choices. I went with the chicken tinga mulita, which is cooked with tomatoes, onions, and chipotle for about an hour before being shredded. I inhaled this one. It was perfect on its own, but I loved it even more spreading the salsa morita over every other bite. There are two mulitas in each serving – believe me, you’ll want to order twice as many.
Xochi offers several drinks to wash down all that good food. There are bottled Mexican sodas, like Coke, Sprite and Jarritos. Homemade agua frescas, a popular refreshing drink in Mexico, mixes fruit with water and a little sugar.
Their mangonada is the epitome of a summer drink. Frozen mangoes are tossed into a sipping sorbet, swirled with a little spicy chamoy sauce and sprinkled with chili powder. Xochi imagines theirs with a candy straw covered in tamarind for drinking. Mango chunks, Mexican gummy candies and a spicy mango lollipop complete the drink. The sweetness of mango combined with the spicy and tangy flavor of chamoy will send your taste buds on a refreshing and fun roller coaster.
And of course, there is dessert! The classic tres leches is a cold sponge cake soaked in a sweetened milk mixture, served with sliced strawberries. Bunuelos deviento are crispy, airy fried pieces of dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Chooflan is Xochi’s most popular dessert. A dense chocolate cake is stacked with creamy vanilla egg custard and a thin layer of sweet caramel sauce. I loved how the cake was moist and not too chocolatey, and the sauce was not too sweet. The rich vanilla of the flan tied it all together.
Xochi offers some menu items as party platters. Mix and match three or six proteins to make up to thirty tacos. Platters of quesabirria are served in batches of twenty or forty. They have a Xochi Hour, their version of a happy hour, from 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday with a handful of their menu items sold at a discount. A condensed late night menu is available on Fridays and Saturdays after 11pm
Taqueria Xochi is the take-out Mexican restaurant that needs to be added to everyone’s bucket list. Can’t beat traditional cuisine on the go!
Taqueria Xochi is open Sundays and Mondays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Delivery is available through UberEats and Doordash. Pickup orders can be placed online or in person.
Taqueria Xochi, 924 U Street NW, (202) 292-2859, taqueriaxochi.com