La Puerta Verde in Ivy City is a Mexican restaurant as intriguing for its varied stories, as it is for its food and drink. There is the owner- Ari Gejdenson- a former international soccer player turned successful DC restaurateur. There is the Mexican-born chef, Carlos Camacho, who after 20 years as a DC chef is now cooking the cuisine of his homeland. There is the building itself- part of the former Hecht Warehouse, which has been transformed into a mixed-use development of restaurants and condos. And there is the neighborhood of Ivy City in Northeast DC, evolving from urban blight into a destination for dining and distilleries.
You enter La Puerta Verde through a green door – which is the literal translation of the name. In Mexico, a green door signifies hope and freedom, an uplifting theme for the times.
Gejdenson, who grew up not far from Ivy City, opened La Puerta Verde as part of a trio of restaurants, which also includes Ari’s Diner and the adjoining sports bar, Dock FC. Ghibellina and Acqua al 2 are also part of his Mindful Restaurant Group. La Puerta Verde serves as Gejdenson’s tribute to the many talented people of Mexican origin who he’s worked with during his years in the restaurant industry.
Gejdenson’s vision for La Puerta Verde was to interwine the rich history of the building with authentic Mexican style. A mix of vibrant Mexican tiles and colorful wall murals by local graffiti artist Chelove, is juxtaposed with repurposed cargo containers, and other found objects from the surrounding area. Eye-popping touches of color are everywhere, adding allure to the industrial architecture.
Start an evening mingling at the bar, where you can soak in the sights while sipping a smoky LPV Margarita with mezcal. The unique Mezgroni is a blend of mezcal, sweet vermouth, and amaro.
Chef Camacho began making salsa as a child, and the obligatory chips and salsa that open a meal benefit from his years of experience. The chunky guacamole is addictive, and it doesn’t require a ceremonial table side show. The server thrusts the bowl on our table without any fanfare, and that’s just fine.
I have a thing for Elote Loco- corn on the cob topped with mayo- and the version here is excellent. The husk-on cob is generously slathered with a mixture of spicy mayo, cojita cheese, and chili. It’s a drool-down-the-chin experience, but the tasty mess is smile-inducing.
If I don’t eat red meat again for a while, it’s only because I don’t want to spoil the memory of the carne arrachera. This is a plate brimming with meat and vegetables. At the center is grilled beef skirt steak, tender and dripping with the flavors of cilantro, lime, and garlic. If that’s not meaty enough, there’s spicy chorizo too. Fresh queso fresco, grilled tomatillo, spring onions, jalapeno, and cactus compliment the meat. If you’re supplementing your meal with tacos – and you should- you may want to share the dish. It’s hefty.
Tacos come three to a plate for $9. Corn tortillas are handmade in the kitchen and selections range from roasted mushrooms with Oaxaca cheese, chorizo spicy pork sausage, and cumin crusted fried cod with mango slaw.
Chile relleno stuffed with roasted corn and Oaxaca cheese is topped with a vivid tomato sauce. My husband is impressed by the layered flavor, as well of the value of the dish ($18).
My friend wants to order grilled head-on jumbo shrimp with chipotle tomato sauce, but is concerned about the spice level. Our server doesn’t know if the chef can tone it down, but agrees to ask. Moments later Chef Camacho is at our table to explain why he can’t alter the chipotle spice. In a move that leaves us gushing with praise, the chef returns to the table with two spoonfuls of alternate sauces so my friend can choose the one she likes best. This is remarkable, considering its smack in the middle of a busy service.
The green door at La Puerta Verde is a welcoming sight on Fenwick Street, NE. The Mexican restaurant offers just the right symbol of hope, as a new narrative for the neighborhood continues to unfold.
La Puerta Verde, 2001 Fenwick, Washington DC 20002
More on Ivy City from the Washington Post: “The next cool DC Neighborhood You Have Never Heard Of”