By Ezra Klein
I don’t like New York. Never have. I find it cramped and self-conscious and overbearing. It’s like the city itself is invading my personal space. That may not be surprising: I’m suburb-born and California-raised. I like room. Beaches. Houses. Streets with trees on them. A general sense of calm.
But as a Californian, I can still diss on DC’s food scene. Ask me about tacos sometime. Ask me about fish tacos sometime. And breakfast burritos. And what food tastes like right after a surf. And the appropriate frequency with which avocado should appear on my plate. But my dear friends who spend their days complaining about DC’s relative inadequacy are suffering, I think, from a crucial misconception: Namely, DC is not supposed to taste like your childhood home.
Californians pine for tacos. But the pupusa options are in the District are far superior to anything I encountered in Orange County. New Yorkers beg for Italian food. Strangely, they never speak of Brooklyn’s superior Ethiopian joints. And no one I know regularly patronizes Oohs and Aahs. What the haters want, I think, is not a food culture, but their food culture. The one they remember. The one that tastes like childhood and summer vacation and those few months right before college when you and your friends went to that one place every night at 11:30 pm, remember that shit?
Well, no. Only you remember that shit. And until someone airlifts a Del Taco in here for my enjoyment, no one will remember my shit, either. DC will never taste like California. But then, it’s not supposed to.
Like a lot of transplants, my first few months in DC were rough. I didn’t know people. I didn’t like my living situation. I spent Christmas Eve alone. That got better, of course. I made friends. I moved to Hobart. I began subjecting people to my Christmas music. But what really made DC feel like home for me — and make no mistake, DC is my home — was Don Jaimes.
Don Jaimes is a small Mexican breakfast joint at the cross of Mt. Pleasant Street and Lamont. It is also — or was also — a Verizon authorized retailer. Don Jaime — yes, there is a Don Jaime — is a lumbering guy with a thick neck and a lot of friends. The shop seems more a hobby than a self-supporting business. Walk by it during a weekday and you’ll see it closed up, but Don and his friends will be inside drinking beers and laughing. Recently, it stopped selling cell phones, which probably means that Don’s promise to give me $30 off activation if I also bought breakfast is void.
I’m not going to say that you’ll remember the huevos rancheros at Don Jaimes for the rest of your life. They’re good, though. So is the chorizo wrap, and the migas, and the huevos divorciados. The Mexican hot chocolate is near-perfect, and the cafe con leche is the only coffee I really drink. They don’t bring you water. I don’t know why. This is a source of frustration to the oft-hungover. A bronze sculpture of a boat hangs to a picture of a Hispanic Bud Light model with 80s hair. Next to it there used to be a cell phone display. The jukebox plays randomly Mexican hits at random times, and when it does, garish lights flash on in sequence, like some sort of deranged pinball machine. It’s weird.
But it’s also why I love Don Jaimes. I’d go there every weekend. Sometimes, I’d go both days. They knew my order. I forgave their unwillingness to hydrate me. Don Jaimes was mine. It was strange enough and quirky enough to be an indelible part of my life here rather than a faint echo of my life elsewhere. For the first time, something in DC tasted like home. And that meant that DC, for the first time, was beginning to feel like home.
So enough DC-bashing. I know all you district-ers have places that you love. Out with them.