At Last, an Alternative to Chipotle

       FACEBOOK The restaurant offers a refreshing and creative combination of fresh-Mex cuisine and standard healthy fare including vegetarian options.

FACEBOOK
The restaurant offers a refreshing and creative combination of fresh-Mex cuisine and standard healthy fare including vegetarian options.

Students looking for a new, affordable and delicious eatery with a diverse selection from tacos to green smoothies: look no further. Last month, Jaco Juice and Taco Bar, located at 1614 Wisconsin Ave., opened its doors, championing locally-sourced ingredients and giving Georgetown students what they need most during the season — a sunny hideaway from the cold weather.

The restaurant decor reflects Jaco’s mission of healthy, fresh food. Wheatgrass plants and bottles of hot sauce line the orange and blue accented walls, and juicers, blenders and grills make up an open kitchen that is viewable from the taco bar. The fast-casual vibe is cheerful, with a steady stream of reggae and Jack Johnson-esque acoustic tracks to accompany the hum of blenders and the sizzling grill. Overall, the ambience exudes a sense of warmth.

The menu offerings are impressive in their diversity, combining both Mexican cuisine and health food. Breakfast burritos, quesadillas and Jaco’s signature tacos make up the Mexican food selection, while acai bowls, juices, salads and smoothies represent the health food half of the deal. In a slight but delicious departure from the fresh-Mex vibe, Jaco also serves excellent La Colombe coffee, and New York bagels hold their place alongside the quinoa porridge and granola on the breakfast menu.

All of the tacos I tried were excellent. The meat in every taco — from braised beef to chicken to pulled pork — was tender, and the house-made corn tortillas were just the right texture to wrap up all the flavors. The chicken tinga taco — its spiciest offering — had a strong kick to it, though bolder patrons may want to reach for the hot sauce. The unique flavor combinations — especially the pineapple salsa on the fish taco — upgraded the tacos to the next level without slapping on a gourmet price tag; tacos cost $4 each or $6 to $7.50 for two.

     FACEBOOK The Brooklyn is the must-have smoothie at Jaco Juice and Taco Bar.

FACEBOOK
The Brooklyn is the must-have smoothie at Jaco Juice and Taco Bar.

The tacos looked just as good as they tasted. The pulled pork and the fish taco came topped with a brilliant cabbage slaw that even tasted bright, making for an Instagram-worthy presentation.
Jaco’s stellar Mexican food was weakened only by its rather wimpy burritos. Though the meat was still top-notch, the Sante Fe burrito — which consists of braised beef — seemed to be about 50 percent rice. Having really enjoyed the corn tortillas, I had high hopes for a floury, soft wrapping for this burrito, but was disappointed by a nondescript, vaguely stiff flour tortilla.

On the green side of the menu, the juice and smoothie offerings were fantastic across the board. The Mean Green juice ($6) tasted very healthy with its blend of apple, kale, cucumber, celery, ginger and lime. The flavor of the vegetables overtakes that of the fruits, and while the apple and lime make the drink sweet, the kale and celery still manage to be the dominant taste.

The highlight of the meal by far was the liquid sunshine of one of its signature drinks: the Brooklyn ($6.50). Easily the best green smoothie I have tasted in D.C., its sweet pineapple and agave fully tame the kale flavor. If the idea of drinking your greens does not pique your appetite, other options range from the classic “Island in the Sun” (mango and pineapple) to the chocolatey “Hipster” (banana and Nutella).

With its cozy space, Jaco is not the best place to take a large group — the seating is fairly limited, with several seats along the raised taco bar and a couple of small tables. However, as warmer weather rolls in, the restaurant plans to build a 30-seat deck for patrons to enjoy their juice and tacos in the sunshine.

There is no better way to ring in the spring than with a Key Lime smoothie and a fish taco.

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