Oyamel Cocina Mexicana – Penn Quarter


Oyamel is one of restauranteur and chef José Andrés’ creations. Just as the restaurant is full of fun, eclectic decorations, the menu has interesting, unique options from cactus salad to grasshopper tacos. I decided to be adventurous so I tried the latter. It was a mistake, but more about that later. My experience at Oyamel made me realize that I do not like the small plate fad or eating insects.


Oyamel’s menu was a bit overwhelming, so I did not know what to order. All I really know about Mexican food is Chipotle and fajitas, so expansive knowledge of the cuisine didn’t really help. My friend, who’s been to Oyamel on several occassions, recommended the grasshopper tacos, or Chapulines ($4 per taco). I ordered one thinking I wouldn’t be able to see, taste, or feel the insects. I thought they would be disguised in some indistinguishable form. I was very wrong.

Chapulines (Grasshopper Tacos)

Chapulines (Grasshopper Tacos)

I felt like I was on Fear Factor when the server put the chapulines down. I could see everything from the abdomen to the feet of the grasshoppers. When I took a bite, I could feel the insect’s crunch. First there was no flavor. Then it was incredibly salty. My bite ended tasting lemony. It was not a good combination. Below the sautéed grasshopper were shallots, tequila and guacamole.

That first bite was my last. I wouldn’t say I have a sensitive stomach (I had a birthday party at an insectarium when I was little), but I felt queasy afterwards.


Thankfully, I had the amazingly delicious tortilla chips and mild salsa to cleanse my palette. The chips were the closest things I’ve had to homemade Doritos. They were fresh and warm and seasoned with “a blend of chiles, salt and tequila.”The salsa had an almost sweet, smoky flavor. It’s made with “chipotle chiles, onions and field ripened tomatoes.”The first round of chips and salsa is on the house and after that, they charge $2 for the salsa. I wasn’t aware of this when I was eating, so I didn’t like have a surprise item on my bill.

Machuco relleno de frijól con salsa negra

Machuco relleno de frijól con salsa negra (fried plantain fritters)

We also ordered the machuco relleno de frijol con salsa negra ($7.50) or fried plantains stuffed with black beans a chipotle chile. They came with a piloncillo sugar sauce, which was basically a mildly sweet black sauce. The fritters were like warm, chewy nuggets. The flavor was not too sweet and bland in a good way, to help me recover from the grasshopper taco incident.

Pollo a la parrilla con aguacate taco

Pollo a la parrilla con aguacate taco

I was still hungry because I only had one bit of the grasshopper taco, so I ordered a pollo a la parrilla con aguacate ($4) taco. It was a simple mix of grilled, marinated chicken with guacamole and grilled green onion. The chicken was very good, but something about the flavor of the soft taco shell did not please me. I think I’ve had enough Mexican food for a while…

cool candle decor

cool candle decor

Despite its funky interior, Oyamel did not impress me. While I’m glad I tried the grasshopper taco, I was upset that I had to spend $4 on that one bite, as I simply could not make myself eat anymore of it. The problem with small plate restaurants is that you can go in thinking that you’re going to order a bunch of dishes and split them amongst your friends and you’re going to have a filling, relatively inexpensive meal. This never happens. The individual dishes cost in the $4-$7 range so you think you’re getting a good deal, but each dish comes with a lot less food than you’re expecting. Ordering plate after plate adds up, so you leave hungry and wondering where all your money went.


Oyamel Cocina Mexicana

401 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20004

(202) 628-1005

closest metro stations: Archives (green and yellow lines) and Chinatown (red line)

Sunday-Monday: 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Tuesday – Thursday: 11:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 12 a.m.

Oyamel on Urbanspoon

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