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Inside Cinco Soles, a Refreshing Mexican Restaurant for Columbia Heights

Owner Mauricio Arias turns to his roots with ceviches and tacos from a Maiz64 alum

Langosta borracha (drunken lobster) in a creamy mezcal-based bisque.
Cinco Soles/official photo

Sunny new Cinco Soles serves ceviche, churros, and charred kale with a wink and a nod. The fledgling Mexican eatery off busy 11th Street NW comes from restaurateur Mauricio Arias, who poached a top-tier chef to execute the menu.

Cinco Soles is no street-taco joint, but neither is it avant-garde Pujol. The menu from Maiz64 alum Cristian Saucedo lands squarely in between, with dishes worthy of a cozy neighborhood locale that still manages to explore the far reaches of Mexican cuisine. The lineup begins with a host of shareables (and if the table isn’t covered in plates, you might be doing it wrong). Saucedo’s guacamole arrives with thick, shatteringly crisp cuts of chicharron (tortilla chips are available too). He also added salads of Brussels sprouts and kale, with leaves seared over an open flame. Cinco Soles opens daily from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. — and until 11 p.m. on weekends — to start (3418 11th Street NW).

This is not Arias’ first restaurant rodeo. Born in El Salvador, Arias owns El Rinconcito Café, which sits farther south on 11th Street and serves Salvadoran and Tex-Mex cuisine. He also co-owns small Italian spot Tortino Restaurant nearby. Arias also ran Italian-themed Ossobucco, where Cinco Soles now stands. When the pandemic hit, he “decided to go back to a cuisine that [he] knew much better.”

Guacamole with chicharron.
Evan Caplan/Eater DC

Since opening, Saucedo built out a ceviche program that make Cinco Soles one of the few area Mexican restaurants with a dedicated ceviche space. The ceviche negro is a platter of thinly sliced octopus, cucumber, and serrano hit with squid ink, alongside dollops of sweet potato puree. An oyster ceviche comes in the half-shell itself, a mix of finely chopped oyster, shrimp, habanero, shallot, cucumber, and lime.

He’s also put together a much-larger taco list than originally planned. He’s gone from four to seven — in response to customer feedback for more tacos — with everything from al pastor to pollo to Brussels sprouts.

Yet what Saucedo is most passionate about is his moles, which appear on the entree (“Fuertes”) list. Both the bean tamal and the chicken come in a bath of peanut mole, a silky smooth burnt-orange mole he calls “nice and smoky, light spicy.” Mahi mahi comes in a brighter mole adobado, “a little more aggressive in flavor — it’s very smoky and spicy at the same time with a deep red color from the dried chilies.” There’s also the langosta borracha (drunken lobster) sitting in a creamy mezcal-based bisque. Tetelas, a Oaxacan-origin triangle-shaped dough pocket stuffed with beans and pork chicharron, lay atop a brilliantly green pistachio agave mole.

“The wonderful gastronomy that Mexico has to offer also implemented my experience and talent gained along the years working in different types of kitchens and with amazing people.” says Saucedo.

Deep-fried rice pudding balls come with mezcal-spiked butterscotch salsa.
Evan Caplan/Eater DC
Oyster ceviche on the half-shell.
Evan Caplan/Eater DC

Bar manager Angel Beltran scoops up regional ingredients for the extensive cocktail list. “Our cocktails center around fruits and flavors that can be found throughout Mexico and Central America,” he says. Take note on the espresso martini: vodka and coffee are joined by piloncillo, a type of unrefined cane sugar.

Mezcal continues to have its moment; here, it comes in a margarita, an Old Fashioned, or joins Campari and vermouth for a take on a negroni. The “Naked in Tulum” drink brings together mezcal with Aperol and passionfruit. Beltran is working to source Mexican gin, rum, and whiskey, but notes that “Mexican vodka may be a little difficult.”

Valle de Guadalupe, an area in Baja California gaining recognition as a wine-growing region, is featured prominently in the vino section with reds, whites, and a rose.

On the short dessert menu are churros as well as “croquetas de arroz,” deep-fried rice pudding balls (picture a sweet arancini), served with mezcal-spiked butterscotch salsa.

Cinco Soles refers to the Aztec creation myth that says the earth’s current sun is fifth in line after four suns were destroyed before. Splashed across the walls are wooden sculptures of octopus and swordfish from local artists. Above the bar a playful pink neon sign alerts customers that the “soup of the day” is tequila.