Finding authentic Mexican fare in Washington can be quite a feat. That’s why the Bitches head over the river to Arlington’s Guajillo, which specializes in classic Oaxacan cuisine. Owner Karen Barroso hails from the region, and lucky for us, brought all its traditional cooking to the table. When she’s not busy manning the family-run restaurant, you can find her at home spending time her kids. We sat down over a margarita (maybe more) to talk Mexican cuisine, working with your family, and her spin on brunch. Read on to see what she had to say.
Where is your favorite place to brunch in town?
Being so busy, I’m always at Guajillo but when I am not, I like having brunch at home with my kids. The weekends are when I can be with them because of their busy schedules and mine.
What is your favorite dish to cook for brunch?
I make chilaquiles, which are corn tortillas lightly simmered in red tomato and chile de arbol sauce made of green tomatillos and jalapenos. Then, you top it with sour cream, queso fresco, and diced onions. There’s another dish my kids love called molletes. I say it is grilled cheese Mexican style. I use a specific bread called bolillo, grilled Oaxaca cheese, refried beans, and top it with ham and pico de gallo.
Do you prefer to brunch in or out?
I prefer brunch at my house so I can get to cook with my kids at home.
What brunch item do you have to order if it’s on the menu?
If I see it, I have to order a michelada.
Do you prefer Bloody Marys or mimosas?
I prefer Bloody Marias, as we call them here. We make them with tequila, a house mix with habanero, orange juice, celery, salt, black pepper, and lime juice
If you had to invite a group of local celebrities to brunch, who would they be?
I would invite Michelle and Barack Obama. They love Mexican food and they really appreciate traditional Mexican cuisine. We have always been known for our traditional mole sauces that we make from scratch.
What do you think are the biggest differences between Mexican and American diners?
Mexico is an ethnically diverse country and, in order to understand it, you need to get to know the people, the traditions, and the history. Mexican gastronomy is defined by its different regional cuisines. If you compare that with American diners, then I’d say that Mexicans have less exposure to international cuisine than American diners. Even though you can find a big number of American, South American and Asian restaurants in Mexico, they will most likely lean towards trying any of the options offered within every region of Mexico. Also, I think in Mexico, we have always been consuming local. We are used to having mercados everywhere offering fresh produce.
Have you found that diners gravitate towards authentic Mexican cooking or more Americanized versions like Tex-Mex?
There has always been a lack of Mexican restaurants in D.C. as opposed to a city like Chicago, where there is a big community of Mexicans. So, it becomes easier for diners here to choose Tex-Mex. However, in the past 10 years or so, there’s been a big movement in Mexico to rescue the traditional flavors and diversity of our cuisine. This movement has crossed borders and now, more Americans want to experience authentic flavors of Mexico.
There are so many fabulous variations of Mexican cocktails? What is your favorite? What food would you pair it with?
I love agave spirits and I love exotic fruits. My favorite fruit is passion fruit, which I first tried in Oaxaca when I was 5 years old. A fresh passion fruit juice mixes very well with Mezcal, agave, lime juice, and spicy worm salt. It is refreshing and it reminds me of the beautiful weather in Mexico. It pairs well with our shrimp ceviche. I also make a tepache, which is a traditional fermented drink in Mexico. Every region has its own version, but I use pineapple, clove, ginger, cinnamon, and raw sugar. It has very low concentration of alcohol, but it mixes great with ron añejo or tequila.
D.C. has a lot of Mexican-fusion restaurants, particularly with Asian flavors. What do you think of this trend?
It is very important to remember that the Spanish brought influences from Asia (the Philippines) and the Middle East. So it’s not a coincidence that some these type of fusions work that well. Nowadays, it is very easy to get Mexican ingredients. I think once chefs learn how wonderful these ingredients are, they just want to experiment with them. That’s why you see different type of tacos everywhere, several variations of grilled avocado or avocado toasts, Queso Cotija, torta sandwiches, and different takes on the Mexican street food like the famous corn on the cob.
What’s it like owning a restaurant with your family? What are the biggest rewards and challenges?
The biggest challenge is time. Weekends with my kids are very hard because that’s when you get very busy so I wasn’t able to be there that much. When my friends are out having cocktails, I’m working. When you are running a restaurant or having your own place, you go to sleep thinking about it and wake up thinking about it. It’s not like you punch in and punch out.
Bitch Biz: Guajillo and Bitches Who Brunch are partners. While this article was written independently by Bitches Who Brunch, we do receive compensation from the company.