Cafe Citron
Cafe Citron

If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive Pan-Latin food joint where you can have a Latin-style dinner, drink and dance all in one place and in that order, then Cafe Citron inDupont Circle is your best bet. A veritable establishment with a long history and reputation in the District, Cafe Citron is a popular spot not only because of its comfort food-style Latin American cuisine, but also for its inexpensive happy hours (Tuesday through Saturday), fun casual vibe, nightly in-house disc jockeys and free salsa and merengue lessons on Wednesday and Saturday evenings.

Before I even stepped foot into the restaurant, I knew that even if the food didn’t meet my standards, it would still be fun just to check it out.

And I was not disappointed.

When my friend and I entered the cozy restaurant — but not until after a friendly security guy checked our IDs — we immediately felt good vibes coming from the Caribbean music blasting from the speakers. The bar was packed with mostly 20-something office types that just got off work and the slightly dimmed lights and the rustic Latin decor created a fun and casual atmosphere.

The restaurant is famed for their extensive mojito menu, so we ordered their renowned Cuban Mojito ($7.27) and some fried plantains ($6) and calamares a la plancha ($12) to start. The mojito was delicious — sweet, but also unexpectedly strong; perhaps we were just too used to the tepid alcoholic beverages that are found within the campus vicinity. As someone with minimal knowledge and little experience with Latin American cuisine, the fried plantains, with their browned and crunchy exterior but gooey and aromatic insides, were a delightful surprise; bananas have rarely tasted better than this. The chewy texture and garlicky flavor of the grilled calamari had us equally smitten.

By the time our entrees came, we were quite buzzed from our mojitos and already quite full; however, just by looking at my camaron citron ($16), I knew my stomach could definitely make some extra room. The lemon and garlic shrimp came on a bed of grilled peppers and onions, complemented by some steaming buttery rice and a small house salad.

But alas, the shrimp were nothing to write home about—good, but not on par with the appetizers we ate. The vegetables were also standard fare; the rice, however, with its rich and creamy taste, was a knockout as the intense flavor overpowers that of the shrimp. Likewise my friend’s lomo saltado, a Peruvian dish of grilled beef strips served with onions, peas and French fries, was delicious but not particularly amazing. Even so, both entrees make for satisfying comfort food, especially when finished with a glass of mojito.

Being right next to the bar allowed us to see how Cafe Citron is not just any restaurant establishment in D.C., but one that has a following with regular customers, in the sense that there seems to be an air of community. Loyal customers banter and joke with the bartenders, some knock back bottles of Corona, and two or three couples got up from the bar to dance — actually, salsa — to the Latin music coming from the speakers.

Overall, my friend and I had a very enjoyable experience at Cafe Citron. We’ll definitely be back for the appetizers, drinks and fantastic vibe during happy hour. Combined, these factors make Cafe Citron a great, fun choice to just kick back with friends on any night of the week. Now, who wants to learn how to do the merengue on Saturday?

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