Zengo Restaurant

Last night I had dinner at Zengo in Washington, DC, part of the small Modern Mexican chain. The restaurant came highly recommended by Tyler Cowen.

Things did not start out promising. I pulled up at 7pm for our 7:15pm reservation. The valet parking attendants were standing around. They weren’t moving the cars that were already there, and they ignored us (and several more cars that pulled in behind us). Traffic in an already busy area backed up.

After waiting 15 minutes, I called into the restaurant. I explained that I was outside waiting for parking and that a problem was developing. I was told “the valets are a different company so there’s nothing I can do, but I’ll tell the manager.” The manager came out and the valets took my car. By this time the police had arrived but fortunately didn’t ticket anyone.

(On the way out the valet service was equally bad, with new arrivals at the restaurant getting out of their vehicles, looked around in bewilderment, and finding camaraderie in the restaurant’s incompetence. Two cars even gave up and left while the valet attendants wandered around without moving any cars.)

Yet somehow the restaurant redeemed itself. This is not a fine dining establishment with an emphasis on service. Our two water bottles — one sparkling, the other still — sat on the table and our waitress never refilled glasses even once (which was okay, we did it ourselves). This is a neat, trendy atmosphere with loud music and loud conversation. But the food is interesting, high-quality, and an excellent value.

Here’s what we shared for dinner:

Trio of ceviches

“Bangkok” mahi mahi / green papaya / mint / lime / coconut / achiote

“Azteca” rock shrimp / yuzu / habanero / jicama / lemon oil / aji panca

“Inca” Yellow fin tuna / red onion / cilantro / mandarin oranges / aji Amarillo


Won Ton Tacos

charred ahi tuna / sushi rice / pickled ginger / mango salsa


Steamed Gyoza Dumplings

foie gras / shrimp / pork / chinese celery / won bok / passion fruit mustard


Arepas de Puerco

pulled pork / achiote~hoisin / crema fresca / avocado


Peking Rolls

Duck confit / shiitake / cabbage / show peas / carrots /

three dipping sauces


Churros con Chocolate


Frozen Passion Fruit Souffle

We’d had a big lunch, so this was just the right amount of food, though on a normal evening I might have ordered a couple more items. Total bill, including tax and before tip: $95

Will definitely be back… but may just plan to take the metro.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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