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In about a month, downtown will get its first big influx of hipsters when the Vagabond Lofts open. And these people will need to eat. Lucky for them, there is a wide variety of Mexican restaurants in the Cultural Arts District, the bustling nabe just north of the Mall.
You moved south of Herndon/Shaw/Olive?
For a higher-end, more atmospheric Mexican dining experience, the newly opened Mezcal is not to be missed. The totally remodeled interior feels like a Oaxacan hacienda with leather chairs and tables, dramatic arches, and metal agave fronds adorning the walls. (Mezcal is a Mexican liquor made from the agave plant, like tequila). With an extensive seafood menu, full tequila bar, and high definition plasma TVs, this is where you take the folks to convince them Downtown isn't the ghetto. On Saturday nights the restaurant turns into a club featuring reggaeton, bachata, and hip hop. Expect to spend $10-$15 on an entree, and $4 on a margarita. Don't miss the guacamole.1310 Van Ness, 264-6015
For a more rustic- yet still presentable- choice, Fajita Fiesta offers everything al carbon (grilled) in a casual atmosphere. It is indeed a fajita fiesta on the menu, with 10 different types of fajitas from the standard beef, chicken or shrimp to the Stuffed Fajitas, filled with grilled onions and cheese. Fajitas hover around $12, while combination plates clock in under $9. 1850 Van Ness, 498-6015
Papagayos is not blessed with an attractive parking lot. The loose gravel and "No Public Restrooms" sign in the window might give you the wrong idea about this cozy mexican joint. Cheap and fast is formula here, and lunch is the preferred meal. The retro counter inside makes it an ideal haunt for those solo burrito binges. Although you won't feel the gale-force winds after which the restaurant was named on the modest patio, the Negra Modelo should cool you off nicely. 2013 Broadway, 442-4741
While it doesn't technically offer brunch, Toledo's is open for breakfast and lunch Saturday and Sunday- a rare find in this neighborhood. The huevos rancheros is the perfect cure for a late night at Tokyo Garden. The downtown original spawned two other locations, and gets packed at lunchtime. A bag of expertly salted and spiced tortilla chips and salsa is a nice snack for $1.50. Don't look to this Toledo's for dinner. 1704 Van Ness Ave, 498-6507
For the most important meal of the weekday, stop by Julia's No. 2 (number one is nowhere to be found). This busy breakfast and lunch spot specializes in authentic, homemade Mexican cuisine. Folks patron Julia's for the tripe or the albondigas, not the cheese enchiladas. 2160 H St, 233-3437
Quick and Dirty
The only taco shop in the hood is Ramon's, a yellow cement shack with bars on the windows, parked behind a bus stop. Once upon a time there was a drive thru, but no one uses it anymore. A taco will set you back $1.25, quesadillas less than $5. Divisadero and Broadway, no phone