At her recently opened restaurant between Columbia Heights and Petworth, longtime D.C. resident Josefina Darui wants to show love to her native Mexico City and what she considers her adopted hometown. So she named the place DC Corazon, which means “heart” in Spanish, and commissioned a menu similar to what she’d find at fondas, the mom-and-pop shops known for filling breakfasts and other homey meals.
For lunch and dinner, DC Corazon serves guacamole prepared tableside, enchiladas, tostadas, quesadillas, tacos, and entrees slathered in mole that requires lots of patience to make. Seasonal fruits and vegetables find their way into the cooking and the cocktails.
“We want to be the fonda on the corner where having a meal can be affordable, [with] great food, good service in an authentic, artsy Mexican atmosphere,” Darui says. “I want people to feel happy.”
Unlike many restaurants that impose a time limit to turn more tables during the pandemic, Darui encourages customers to sit and stay however long they like. Bringing a check to customers before they ask for it would be “an offensive thing” in Mexico, she says. DC Corazon opens for indoor or outdoor dining, pickup, and delivery from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, with an 11 p.m. close Friday and Saturday (3903-3905 14th Street NW).
Chef Antonio Pastora, who hails from the Acapulco area on the Pacific coast of Southern Mexico, puts a contemporary spin on recipes that date back to a pre-Hispanic era. Darui says his red mole helped sealed the deal for his job. He makes the sauce once a week, simmering dried chiles, nuts, and chocolate for hours on end. Mole then covers main dishes like salmon, chicken, or a surf-and-turf of filet mignon and pan-fried shrimp.
“Making mole requires lots of patience because every step is crucial for making it right — not too thick, not too watery, just perfect. It’s a long process,” Darui says, adding, “all of our dishes take a little time.”
Appetizers include elote, esquites, and queso fundido served as a hot skillet of bubbling Chihuahua cheese. Huaraches, oblong-shaped masa dough topped with proteins like chorizo and beef or chicken tinga, are another option. Tacos balanced on blue corn tortillas come filled with lengua (slow-braised beef tongue) or fried fish with jicama-citrus slaw and chipotle aioli. Vegetarians can order tacos with huitlacoche (corn fungus); nopales (cactus) and rajas (roasted peppers) marinated escabeche-style with queso fresco; or hibiscus flowers sautéed in achiote paste. Aside from a section of “specialties,” nearly every dish on the menu is $10 or less.
“We are not a taqueria — and we’re also not a Rosa Mexicano,” Darui says. “We are basically for the everyday person. I want people to understand at $6.99, you can have a good meal.”
That’s the opening price point for lunch specials like rolled and fried taquitos dorados, filled with chicken or choripapa (chorizo and potatoes), and a “big” gordita: a blue corn pouch filled with a choice of chorizo or nopalez, with red or green salsa. Margaritas are $6 during happy hour.
A bar manager at an NYC Indian restaurant consulted on a drink menu that plays with tamarind, turmeric infusions, and crushed ginger, along with fresh fruit juices and scratch agave syrups.
Table settings dressed with rainbow-hued tablecloths and decorative pink bows wrapped around royal blue chairs play off floral and stone plate ware.
She also went against her psychologist sister’s advice about how using too many colors could distract from the food. He favorite color, blue, surrounds the bar. A wooden wine rack she refashioned herself houses hard-to-source bottles from Valle de Guadalupe’s XA and Chateau Domecq cellars.
“When you sit there you feel like you’re in a restaurant, but when you pay it doesn’t make a big scratch on your wallet,” she says. “[But] that doesn’t mean you have to give them something simple, ugly, or cheap.”
A bright mural splashed along the dining room wall depicts a street near the owner’s childhood home, joined by metal hearts and trinkets she’s gathered from family and friends over the years. The restaurant’s namesake even appears on plates with heart-shaped servings of rice, sides, tres leches cake, and mini mezcal-infused flan.
Salads are medleys of romaine, tomatoes, onions, corn, black beans, and cilantro with balsamic vinaigrette or cilantro-lime dressing, topped with grilled chicken, steak, or salmon, alongside a cup of soup ($12.99 for lunch).
“When customers leave, they don’t feel heavy,” Darui says. “Everyone thinks Mexican food is greasy and fatty. Everything is cooked and prepared by us, down to the condiments.”
Darui’s lease started in January 2020, two months before pandemic led to a dine-in ban. That sparked a year of delays in equipment, construction, and permits. Because she wasn’t open yet, she says, she didn’t quality for PPP loans.
“When I started creating the design it was not with much money — everything started with a heart,” she says, referring to a red heart-shaped blown glass ornament from her kid’s bedroom that now hangs near the bar. She scratched working names like “Cilantro” or “Josie’s House” in favor of one that pays tribute to a city that’s now been her home longer than she lived in Mexico. Darui met her husband during a vacation to the District and has been here nearly three decades.
“As the years passed I realized this is my country,” she says.