A new Guatemalan street food operation has gained a diverse following in Shaw for massive, meat-loaded hot dogs prepared out of a bar kitchen.
Since taking over days at Jake’s Tavern last fall, Nim Ali Shukos & Antojitos has targeted two different audiences: a lunchtime crowd that orders takeout or Uber Eats delivery and bar patrons who show up for a twice-weekly pop-up.
Nim Ali comes from Rosario Guzman and Karla Alonzo, a married couple who hail from Puebla, Mexico, and San Lorenzo, Guatemala, respectively.
Nim Ali’s most popular menu items are shukos ($10-$16) served on a hefty, toasted bun. The original tops a beef frank with guacamole, cabbage, and squiggles of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.
“We both started thinking about bringing something traditional from Guatemala to D.C.,” Guzman says. “There’s nothing close [to this] — you have to go to Virginia or Maryland.”
The “Chingon” is a foot-long monster stuffed with a whopping six types of meat: beef frank, Mexican chorizo, fajita asada, al pastor, bacon, and ham. A salad-sized portion of veggies like cabbage, cauliflower, and cactus chunks are sprinkled throughout, too.
Guzman says construction workers gravitate towards the behemoth, and the partners can count on at least one 12-person order from a hardhat crew every day.
“[Construction workers] like that sandwich because it’s a good, fat meal,” Guzman says. “‘Chingon’ is an expression for a tough person — you’re a chingon because you can lift that heavy item. You’re the boss.”
Nim Ali makes other dishes from throughout Mexico and Central America. There cheese or pork-filled pupusas; tacos; enchiladas rolled with chicken, guacamole, beans, and crunchy chow mein noodles; and mixtas, or fried corn tortilla discs topped with a fried egg for breakfast or an array of meats.
Hours for takeout and app delivery are 8 a.m. to 4 pm. during the week. on Tuesdays (5 p.m. to 10 p.m.) and Saturdays (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Nim Ali runs a kitchen takeover for Jake’s guests.
Gallo, a beer brewed in Guatemala City, is the beer of choice at home, and silver cans stocked at Jake’s are the suggested pairing (it’s called Famosa here).
A “Shuko and taco” Tuesday deal includes 10 tacos and five beers for $35.
Like the Chingon, the name “Nim Ali” also carries a badass connotation. In Alonzo’s hometown in Guatemala, the phrase refers to a strong Mayan queen, an honorable nickname given to female family leaders.
“We are always thinking on the side of our moms,” Alonzo says. “Rosie and I grew up without fathers — we had a nim ali in our homes.”
She confesses she never had a passion to cook as a kid, but when she moved to the states by herself at 17, she had to be self-sufficient.
“I was making all the food I’ve been missing in this country,” says Alonzo, who came to the U.S. in 2004. “I’d call my mom and sister and I say, ‘Hey, I want to cook this.”
She’s since clocked about a dozen years in the restaurant industry.
Her family’s recipes make up the dishes at Nim Ali. She says her relatives are tough critics. They visit twice a year and give her honest feedback.
“They say, ‘You have to fix this, or add a little more of this.’ They are my boss,” Alonzo says with a laugh.
Nim Ali got its humble start a few years ago as a catering company, borrowing Union Kitchen space for small-scale events around town.
“We started creating a small group of customers that already know our food,” Alonzo says. “We started thinking, let’s make it official — let’s start making it real.”
The partners, together since 2011 and married in 2014, used to work together at Maki Shop in D.C. Jake’s owner Todd Ciuba owned the now-closed shop. He’s taken his former employees under his wing, letting the startup use his kitchen before bar hours start.
Nim Ali’s twice-weekly takeovers at Jake’s have been so popular, Ciuba made it a permanent pop-up.
“We are two women who worked hard to do something on our own in this country. We are immigrants and we want to help the economy in this country,” Alonzo says. “It’s been my dream one day to have my own business, but I also always wanted to have something new for D.C.”
Some fans outside of the DMV are finding out about Nim Ali on Facebook, she reports, coming from as far as Woodbridge, Baltimore, and Fredericksburg.
Destination shukos will soon hit the streets of D.C.
Nim Ali plans to roll out a new food truck this spring, retaining the setup at Jake’s and rolling around its street foods later in the day.