Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Fuego Cocina y Tequileria

Fuego Cocina y Tequileria translates to “fire kitchen and tequila bar.” And with its bold take on traditional Mexican cuisine, this new restaurant is turning up the heat in Clarendon.

The restaurant, which opened its doors earlier this month, occupies the former site of Harry’s Tap Room. Like the short-lived Market Tavern before it, the restaurant features a bar and more casual dining environment on the lower level. An elegant dining room can be found on the second level, up a staircase whose walls are decorated in the festive paisley-like murals found across the restaurant.

The first glimpse of the menu reveals a vast assortment of drinks, from juices and juice blends to more spirited beverages. The extensive tequila list stands out, and lives up to the “tequileria” in the restaurant’s name. Dozens upon dozens of varieties are available, and can be spied around the bar and in a glass-encased closet in the dining room.

Such libations are sure to put a little burn in the mouth and a flush in the cheeks, but so too will the cuisine. The meal starts with a basket of thin, crispy tortilla chips and a salsa duo – a spicy variety and a tamer salsa verde. (The first is on the house; a second batch costs $2).

The appetizers give the first suggestion that this spot serves something greater than the average deep-fried and sour-cream-coated Mexican cuisine. Beer steamed mussels, tilapia ceviche, and mini tuna tartare tacos make the seafood-laden list of “botanas” snacks. This restaurant, after all, comes from the same minds behind lauded seafood restaurant DC Coast, the Passion Food Restaurant Group. Seafood aside, even the expected Mexican fare gets a gourmet touch. The Flautas de Pato ($9) trade ground beef for shredded duck confit. The fried flautas are served with a dark mole sauce so complex, layered, and altogether satisfying that it inspires pause for consideration.

The tacos (two to an order for $7) on the menu are a foodie feast of well-seasoned meats and little else served in a housemade corn tortilla. The Birria offers slightly spicy shreds of roasted goat. The Lengua serves chunks of slow-braised, tender beef tongue. Spit-roasted pork, grilled shrimp, fried tilapia – the list of taco fillings goes on. Tacos are served with a sauce trio that provides a wide range of flavors and heat levels to accent the tacos.

A few tacos can an affordable meal make, but the house specials are not to be overlooked. Seafood again has a strong showing in this menu section. The Huachinango a la Veracruzana ($22) takes its cues from the costal Mexican city’s cuisine. Flaky red snapper is presented to the table, giving diners a moment to admire it before it is bathed in sauce poured tableside from a dish. The sauce is subtly spiced, and inviting. Slices of green olive and a sprinkling of capers give a salty and tangy contrast to the sauce, and the fish provides an ideal space for the flavors to mingle.

Beyond excellent cuisine, Fuego Cocina y Tequileria is praiseworthy for the variety it brings to area dining, whether it becomes a favorite spot for beer and tacos with friends, or a place to sample undiscovered tequila and see Mexico’s cuisine brought to its full potential.

Fuego Cocina y Tequileria is located at 2800 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. For more information, call 571-970-2180 or visit Restaurant hours are Monday – Wednesday: 4 – 11 p.m.; Thursday – Friday: 4 p.m. – midnight; Saturday: 11 a.m. – midnight; and Sunday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.