Home is Where the Huevos Rancheros Are.

186228347_3cb88c216d

From Flickr User Crispy Teriyaki.

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.

12 responses to “Home is Where the Huevos Rancheros Are.

  1. it’s tough eating tacos in dc after you’ve lived in austin but check out taqueria df at 14th&oak. they also have a great horchata.

  2. amen! you live here people, not by force…embrace it and start to love it for what it is, not for what it’s not.

  3. Is Don Jaime’s the same place as Don Juan…also on that corner. I love their tacos. And the Mt. Pleasant Deli next to Ercilia’s has great carry-out subs…I miss living in Mt. Pleasant.

    Taqueria Poblano in Del Ray serves fantastic burritos.

    Last, but not least, is Kenny’s at 8th and Maryland Ave, NE.

  4. @eric. No, Don Jaime’s is across the street and a bit farther up the block I believe. Basically, Don Jaimes is good for breakfast/brunch. At Don Juan’s all I’ve had are the pupusas, which were pretty good.

  5. it’s springtime!
    use your culinary skills to pack a picnic and head over to the appalachian trail!!
    and remember, del taco will always be waiting for you!

  6. oohs and ahhs is fantastic. that is all.

  7. And let’s not forget the homey atmosphere of the Florida Ave. Grill, the wonders of mumba sauce, the post-revelry joy of Market Lunch at Eastern Market, or the simple joy of convenience food that is Julia’s Empanadas.

    I agree wholeheartedly. I won’t ever get a great bagel or a great burrito in this town. But that just makes the bagels better when I go visit New York, or the Burritos at Tacqueria Cancun in San Francisco’s Mission that much better. In the meantime, I enjoy living here, so there must be SOMETHING good about it.

  8. Yglesias and I have both logged in some serious hours at Ooohs and Aaahs from the first day it opened. Thing is, it really has fallen off. The lovely owners installed a weird pricing regime whereby an order of wings is around $8 but wings plus two sides is, I kid you not, something like $17. Total insanity.

    Soul food, anyway, while not exactly the food I grew up with, is definitely cousin to it.

    Anyway, I really, really love the New Orleans Cafe and think it serves the best breakfast in town, despite or because of the fact I dont know what New Orleanians eat for breakfast.

  9. Does your mother know you were celebrating CHRISTMAS??

    I agree Del Taco is the best fast food Mexican in So. Cal.

  10. I loved this post. You weave a good tale, young Ezra.

  11. Amen. Crabcakes at Eastern Market, soft-shell crabs at La Forchette, and ethiopian at Etete are among the grub I would miss if I moved back to Boston. Plus I would have to shovel.

  12. Moderation in the defense of mediocrity is no virtue, eh Ezra? DC-haters aren’t seeking some long-lost Alcyone of childhood; they miss life in a self-respecting American city. Which Deecee just ain’t.

    (For the record, New York doesn’t have as many Ethiopian joints, and I don’t think I ever saw an Eritrean one, but it’s not hurting for them. When I lived on 108th street, I was about six blocks from the nearest one, and maybe ten blocks from the second one. When I lived on 5th street, I was three blocks from one. No doubt there are New Yorkers who just can’t get an injera and berbere fix, but it’s hardly a case for DC’s comparative advantage vis a vis NYC.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s