Do you miss good service? Mariscos 1133 shows that hospitality is as much a reason people dine away from home as anything prepared by a chef. You walk into the place, the staff treats you like an investor. The drinks, the good ones, come as if the bartender already knows what you want, and little surprises end up at your table. One night, uninvited, a waiter pulled out a trio of salsas that she thought might go well with my entree and warned me about the fire in the habanero orange-colored sauce.
The menu reads like the one before masks became a staple. It’s epic. We are talking about almost 20 entries only. Some of his industry peers told Solis that he was crazy to offer so many dishes. “Make it easy,” he says, they trained him. “I don’t know,” says the chef, originally from Mexico City. “I start with five ideas” and keep cooking until there are twice as many. “I like cooking!”
His enthusiasm is everywhere on the plate. Just look at the colorful tuna tostadas, a trio of blue corn tortillas stacked with diced marinated tuna, sliced red onions and avocado presented on a plate with squiggles of a creamy citrus emulsion. “Let the party begin!” the aperitif seems to say, and its flavors in support. Egg batter on chili relleno sticks like lace (so light!), and what’s not to love with a velvety peppercorn puffy with wild mushrooms and tangy goat cheese? Then there are the shrimp, threaded onto candy cane skewers and draped in a smoked pineapple relish, a partnership enhanced by a fresh coconut flavored rice ball. Even the Caesar salad eschews the routine, with pleats of serrano ham amid greens and a vinaigrette made with plenty of the expected garlic and anchovies, but also three cheeses. Add toast, like this place does, and the salad becomes a meal.
Mariscos 1133 – the name combines the Spanish word for “seafood” and part of the restaurant’s address – is a windowed corner dining room appropriate for the era. Most seats are booths, and the exterior features a sidewalk patio, erasing a few scare factors. Inside, you are introduced to a few menu features before getting the list. See the octopus and fish painted on the wall? Blue bar stools and water glasses subtly highlight the underwater vision. Solis says he enjoys the view from the open kitchen. “You can see the reaction” of guests as they eat (or in my case, inhale).
A driver behind favorites Anafre (formerly Little Havana), El Sol and Mezcalero, Solis originally wanted to call his new location Mariscos and Mas (“more” in Spanish). There’s more than seafood on the menu, after all, and Solis wanted everyone to feel welcome. Also, “my sister likes meat and chicken.”
You also. The skirt steak is marinated in pineapple, garlic and fresh thyme, a step that makes the food tender and juicy. Still, the churrasco faces competition from the rest of his big plate, decorated with a neat pile of crispy yuca, tangy chimichurri and, at my server’s request, charro beans puffed up with the flavor of their pork broth . The chefs give a nod to the Caribbean with jerk chicken that may not be precisely Jamaican – there’s a healthy dose of cilantro in the seasoning, and the heat comes from the serrano and habanero – but it goes from good to last pop-in – the mouth test. Like a few other entrees, jerk chicken can be ordered as a sandwich.
Beef braised with a rainbow of chilies and sweetened with cinnamon makes for exemplary birria tacos, presented with the usual hot consommé for sipping or dipping. (Solis advises diners to eat the tacos with salsa verde first, then chase them down with the broth, enriched with the flavor of the beef bones. M’m m’m bueno!)
When I ask Solis what’s behind the perfect servers here, he simply says, “They like to eat.” It helps if the leader gives them the opportunity to do this as part of their training. Its staff are enthusiastic about the food as they have tasted the menu including drinks and can speak from experience of what to order and how best to enjoy something. At my last dinner, a waiter practically insisted that we try a fried whole plaice specialty. I’m glad we paid attention. The tagged fish – marinated with garlic, lime juice and onions and dredged in flour seasoned with paprika and other spices – was an audible crackle wonder followed by a meaty fish followed by a permanent place on the menu.
Large portions can result in leftovers, which I usually send home with table mates. The high quality cuisine of Mariscos 1133 made me rethink this strategy. Parting with, among other dishes, the juicy beef empanadas and their bright green salsa is such a sweet heartbreak.
No part of the experience is overlooked. Nearly twenty wines are offered by the glass, for an average of $10. You might want to relax with a cocktail. Scott Clime, a friend of Solis since they both worked at the late Ceiba, created a drink list that, like the menu, considers the breadth of Latin America. Think pisco sours, caipirinhas and pina coladas. The most interactive of the lot is a little Corona dipped in an icy margarita. Ask for the Corona-Rita, and possibly some queso fundido to soak up the potent slush. The gooey appetizer – melted Mexican cheeses swirled with corn, epazote and earthy eightlacoche – are swaddled in banana leaves in a hot skillet. (To enhance the flavor, Solis bundles the cheese in the sheets a day before serving.)
Several visits, on different days of the week with different servers, gave me ample opportunity to find cracks in the china. But the few flaws I could identify were an order of slow-braised pork with too much salt—a problem easily remedied—and a waiter’s tendency to ask “How do you like it?” of each dish on the table. (My chins got tired from nodding.)
Otherwise, Mariscos 1133 is the definition of what it means to be a neighborhood restaurant, a place whose cuisine, attention and prices encourage regular visits from locals.
Solis was right when he considered the names in his latest draw. Diners may come for the mariscos, but they come back for so many mas.
1133 11th St. NW. 202-836-4107. mariscos1133.com. Open: indoor and outdoor catering as well as take-out and delivery 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. Price: Appetizers $11.95 to $18.95, mains $13.95 to $28.95. Sound control: 77 decibels/must speak in a high voice. Accessibility: No barrier to entry, but the interior is comfortable; two tables are designated for wheelchair users, who have access to an ADA-compliant restroom. Pandemic protocol: Staff members are vaccinated and masked.