If you are familiar with Mexican restaurants Mezcalero Cocina Mexicana and El Sol, you will know that the chef behind them, Alfredo Solis is not joking around with the food. (And if you are not familiar with those spots, you should get yourself there).
Anafre, the coastal Mexican restaurant by the same group marks yet another labor of love. Opened this past November in Columbia Heights, Anafre showcases the diversity and depth of coastal Mexican cuisine, aiming to transport diners on a lovely culinary journey around Mexico.
The name comes from the Spanish word for a “portable oven,” traditionally a clay pot that has an opening in the bottom where hot coals are placed that then heat up the dish atop the pot. In many Mexican countryside homes the anafre might be the only stove used. At the restaurant, this style of cooking is interpreted in an open kitchen where most items are prepared over charcoal.
Anafre’s vibe is chill and relaxed, the ingredients and food is always fresh and delicious, and the dishes are hearty and creative. It’s a perfect spot to let loose with friends for drinks or dinner. Best of all, everything is extremely reasonably priced, with entrees starting at $12. Oh, and did I mention the yummy cocktails?The drink list is made up of cocktails leaning heavy on Mexican whiskies, sotol, tequila and mezcal. The restaurant’s take on the Old Fashioned features Solis’ signature mole sauce – the drink is spicy, boozy and a must try. The Piña Colada Viaja a Mexico is a take on the classic cocktail that includes mezcal in addition to rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice and Tajín Mexican seasoning. However, any of the cocktails by Heriberto Cassanero, previously of Reliable Tavern, Bar Lorea and Little Havana are enjoyable, and feature a range of concoctions in the price range of $10-$14.
For appetizers, don’t miss the oysters al carbon con crab meat – oysters baked with jalapeno butter, topped with a generous heap of crab meat, a bit of cheese and served with bolillo bread – you’ll want it to soak up all that delicious butter. This dish was lovely and decadent – and at $13 for six oysters, it’s an excellent deal. Other appetizers feature guacamole with lobster, seafood nachos with crab, and shrimp and pickled jalapenos. The queso fundido – prepared on top of the grill in a plant leaf with huitlacoche makes for a lovely presentation and tasty dish that’s just a bit different from other queso fundidos.
The rest of the menu spans a variety of tacos, tortas and dishes. We very much enjoyed the chile relleno taco – tortillas topped with cheese stuffed chilis. The fried oyster taco was also delectable and comes with red cabbage, chipotle aioli and avocado. These tacos are not petite and as they are the “guisado” or stew style – they are substantial, homey and absolutely fantastic. At about $4, again I’m surprised at the incredible value for something so high quality.
Another excellent dish is the 12-hour pork shank – it’s extremely tender and the meat falls off the bone, as one would expect from 12 hours of slow cooking done right, the marinade is thick and rich and spicy, and forms a delicious plate of food. There’s a reason this made it over from the Little Havana menu. It also makes excellent leftovers – and you likely will have leftovers as it’s another generously portioned dish. It’s almost ridiculous that this dish is only $14 – I would gladly pay double that.
Other entrees are also solid and consistent – Anafre’s abundance of seafood dishes honor Mexico’s many beach communities including Puerto Nuevo, also known as “Lobster Village,” where lobster is deep fried, split open and topped with butter. At Anafre, Puerto Nuevo-style lobster is accompanied by rice, beans, flour tortillas and topped with jalapeno butter. The seafood enchilada is stuffed with shrimp and crab and topped with a red salsa – a hearty dish.
To take full advantage of the charcoal grill, Solis also makes a Pollo A la Brasa – chicken cooked over wood charcoal making for a tender and tasty meat, and a slightly charred but crispy skin. The yuca fries here are fantastic, thinly sliced as opposed to the wedges typically found and crunchy all around. A whole chicken and three sides is just $22.
Dishes at Anafre are simple, elegant and fabulous, as the restaurant shows off the variety of Mexican seafood flavors – not something you find very often in Mexican restaurants. The food and drinks speak for themselves and I’d definitely come back here for a fun time with friends.
Anafre: 3704 14th St. NW, DC; 202-758-2127; www.anafredc.com