Alfredo Solis sells ceviche, spicy shrimp cocktail, mussels with chorizo, grilled oysters with chipotle butter, and oysters on the half shell at both El Sol and Mezcalero. But even though both restaurants are often packed throughout the day, he says he doesn’t move much seafood because he thinks many American diners are leery of ordering it from Mexican kitchens. With a new restaurant north of Columbia Heights, he’s hoping to change their minds using a menu full of specialties from several coastal regions and a natural hardwood charcoal grill.
Anafre opens tonight in the space that held Solis’s short-lived Cuban joint, Little Havana, with dishes like fried Puerto Nuevo-style lobster from Baja California — finished on the grill and doused with jalapeno butter — and a fiery crab, oyster, and octopus ceviche that he ate as kid during a brief period when his mother moved his family to the Mexican state of Sinaloa. There’s a whole snapper with a tomato broth that comes from Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico and Yucatan shrimp tostadas with pico de gallo, avocado, and serrano chile. A guacamole del mar comes tops mashed avocado with lobster and crab meat.
“I don’t know why [people] don’t trust a Mexican restaurant for seafood,” Solis says. “I’m sure people are going to see that it’s fresh. It’s nice.”
Solis says he pays a premium to work with small, local seafood purveyors he can trust. He believes so much in the idea that he’s putting the restaurant right on strip with two other popular Mexican restaurants. Mezcalero is next-door, and iconic, Puebla-style Taqueria Habanero is two doors down.
“I know that people are like, ‘What are you doing opening another restaurant on this block?’” Solis says. “I’m feeling comfortable with this. This is not another Mezcalero. The menu is so different, and it’s seafood.”
While El Sol and Mezcalero have long menus that are nearly identical, Anafre (3704 14th Street NW) brings on a host of new dishes not found at Solis’s other restaurants. The name itself translates to a word for a portable clay grill that his mother would use to cook for her brothers. At the new restaurant, Solis is finishing tortillas over the grill for a slight char and throwing steaks over the coals for platters and torta sandwiches. A small section of the menu is devoted to pollo a la brasa.
New additions that stay on land include a pork shank that’s braised for 12 hours and served with morita chile salsa, lamb chops in red mole sauce, and a green pozole made with chicken and epazote. One appetizer is a sincronizada Hawallana that sandwiches pork, ham, cheese, and pineapple in between two tortillas with avocado and chipotle.
Bartender Heriberto Casasanero returns from Little Havana to lead a cocktail program that includes an Old Fashioned spiked with Mexican whiskey and mole sauce and integrates agave spirits like sotol and raicilla in addition to tequila and mezcal.
Solis has also replaced the bright murals from Little Havana with lots of religious iconography — all his restaurants have the Virgin of Guadalupe featured somewhere — along with plants and flowers.
“It looks like my grandmother’s house,” Solis says.