It didn’t take long for us to find “our place” in Petworth. As soon as walked into Ruta del Vino, we felt right at home. We stopped in for the first time during a bustling Friday happy hour, a true bargain with $4 wines, a $5 cocktail of the day and a handful of super cheap snacks.
Ruta del Vino is just one of several great restaurants on Petworth’s delicious Upshur Street, but it should come as no surprise that the wine bar is the one we’ve gravitated to the most. Latin American food and spirits are the focus, and the wines are unique while staying approachable and affordable. We’ve only tried the happy hour wines thus far, and they’ve all been delicious and of good quality.
We typically choose to sit at the large and welcoming bar, which takes up the majority of the space. The restaurant’s rustic decor is lovely without trying to break any molds, with pops of greenery and adorable repurposed wine bottle lights. There is also ample seating nestled around the bar and a more private dining room to the back of the restaurant.
I have to apologize up front for the less than stellar photos in this post. Ruta del Vino doesn’t open until 5 p.m. and since the sun currently goes down right around that time I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit during daylight. I do anticipate there will be a part two of this review, as it is our clear intention to try pretty much everything on the menu eventually.
We’ve already tasted our way through a good chunk of the happy hour bites and starters, saving the sandwiches and larger plates for future visits.
While our choices have skewed toward the lighter side, we’ve never left hungry. The fish tacos, $3 each during happy hour and $8 for a platter, are always a must.
The blue corn tortillas made in-house using epazote, a Mexican herb, are some of the best I’ve ever eaten. I love how hearty, sturdy and pliable they are – perfect for a packed fish taco.
The delicate fried white fish has been cooked perfectly on every taco we’ve eaten, and the fresh garnishes and chipotle crema are delicious accompaniments.
The $2 masa fries with chimichurri are another hit from the happy hour menu. These arrive piping hot, with a crispy exterior and melt-in-your mouth interior. The chimichurri is explosively fresh. I want to eat it on everything.
The freshness continues with the grilled cactus salad, a punchy combination of nopales (cactus), cabbage, pickled tomatillo, queso fresco, tomatoes and sherry vinaigrette.
Executive chef Victor Meneses is from Juarez, Mexico and draws on his heritage to turn common Mexican dishes into something special. One example of this is the quesadilla (scroll up for a photo) with huitlacoche, roasted criminis, queso Oaxaca and salsa verde.
We had to google huitlacoche to find out what it was and were intrigued to discover that it’s “corn smut” or a disease/fungus that grows on corn. Corn smut is actually considered a delicacy in Mexico, despite it’s less than appealing description. Never ones to back down from a new-to-us food, we decided to go for it and eat the disease quesadillas. Verdict? Very tasty with a nice earthy flavor. We mostly tasted the cheese and hearty tortillas used to encase the fillings, but would certainly eat other smutty dishes in the future.
Don’t leave without trying one of the ceviches. The fluke-based ceviche tradicional with cumin, lime, jalapeno, red onion, spiced pepitas, avocado and cilantro is layered with fresh flavor after fresh flavor. The cumin tickles your tongue at first bite and then dissolves as bright acidity and subtle spice take over.
We’re definitely going to be spending ample time at Ruta del Vino, exploring the menu and tasting our way through wines from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. It is the quintessential neighborhood bar we’ve been dreaming of having nearby for years, but it’s certainly worth a trip across the DMV as well – especially at happy hour.