Young and Hungry

District Taco Makes a Move to the Great Indoors

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It seems appropriate that, on the heels of this week's cover story about food trucks and the brick and mortars that want to slash their tires (metaphorically speaking, OK?!), Y&H should focus on District Taco, a food cart that's moving to the great indoors. Owner Osiris Hoil figures it only makes sense to place his business under a permanent roof.

No, it's not what you think. It has nothing to do with District Taco's own well-publicized battle with a quasi-Mexican chain that apparently pulled the right strings to force the cart to abandon its popular patch of concrete outside the WJLA-TV building in Rosslyn. Hoil says the decision has as much to do with time management as anything.

He spends a lot of time in the kitchen preparing his Yucatan-style meals. The pork for his carnitas, for example, needs a seven-hour braise. The slow-cooked beans for his vegetarian tacos require constant attention. "They take such a long time to cook," Hoil says about his beans. "I have to be there or I'm afraid something will be on fire."

Since moving between cart and kitchen is often unmanageable and sometimes costly (read: beans left unattended and tossed in the trash), Hoil figures he should just bring the crowd to his food instead of always hauling his food out to the crowd. Besides, the boss has 2,700 Twitter followers to tell him he's doing something worth turning into an institution. "The thing is," Hoil says, "we have a lot of regulars."

He's hoping they'll follow him to District Taco's brick-and-mortar debut this fall in the former Restaurant Vero space at 5723 Lee Highway in Arlington.

His fans will certainly have more reasons to visit. Hoil is planning to expand the menu that's based on his mother's recipes from the family farm in Tekax, Yucatan. Aside from his terrific tacos, breakfast and otherwise, Hoil will serve Yucatan-style ceviche with habanero pepper as well as peninsula favorites like puc-choc and molletes. Hoil even has his mom's recipes for carne asada, burrito mojado (a wet-style burrito with a home-made salsa), and huevos rancheros.

The ironic thing is now that District Taco will have its own space from which to cook and serve, Hoil doesn't intend to spend all his time there. He plans to put his brother in charge of the new open kitchen at the fixed location, while he manages the cart, which he plans to keep rolling. "I want to get another [cart]," Hoil says, his eye clearly on the city after which District Taco takes its name. Whenever regulations are passed that will allow new sidewalk vendors in D.C., the owner plans to have a cart ready to roll onto the streets.

It's a point of pride for Hoil.  He says he gets a lot of guff from Washingtonians about a cart named District Taco that's based in NoVa. "I get Tweets all the time," Hoil admits. He says their messages are direct: "'Shame on you. You shouldn't call yourself District Taco.'"

He wants to silence them with a D.C.-based cart.

What Hoil will never silence is the street-food life that may appear outside his new restaurant, tentatively scheduled to open in late October or early November. "If you have a restaurant and they take your customers, it's not their fault," he says about street vendors.

You have to, he adds, just get better as a restaurant.

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