The small restaurant combines fresh flavors with a homey atmosphere
Tucked under a red awning on Carroll Avenue in Takoma Park, Cielo Rojo doesn't seem extraordinary from the outside. However, upon entering, it's bustling with people, even on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon. With everyone from families to people dining alone, the restaurant is becoming a popular spot in Old Town Takoma.
Opened by Maryland native Carolina McCandless and her husband David Perez in January, Cielo Rojo, which translates to Red Sky, is named for the couple's love of sunsets and a mariachi song of the same name. McCandless and Perez, who met in San Francisco and moved back to Maryland last year, were inspired by traditional Mexican and Californian flavors when creating their restaurant. Before finding a permanent spot in Takoma Park, Cielo Rojo was a pop-up in several spots around the area, such as the now-closed Capital City Confectionary.
Cielo Rojo’s Mexican influence is evident from the moment you step inside. The restaurant is small, with a short bar that faces the open kitchen, a few tables covered in traditional talavera tiles and an ordering counter tucked in a corner. The small interior, resembling a home kitchen, makes for a welcoming atmosphere that puts you at ease as soon as you walk in. The upbeat mariachi music, colorful tapestries and rustic carts and shelves add to the homey mood. Your eyes will definitely be drawn to the vibrant photographs of Mexico scattered across the walls.
Cielo Rojo's take on the classic chips-and-guacamole combo is sure to please those looking for a traditional appetizer. The guacamole is smooth and fresh, and the slight dryness of the accompanying tostadas — a nice change from traditional tortilla chips at other Mexican restaurants — is offset by their freshness and satisfying crunch. The small portion of guacamole is the perfect size for a starter and ensures that you have room left for the enticing entrees that come your way not much later.
The tacos, served a la carte and with a variety of guisado options, are small but delicious. The nopales taco is refreshing and tangy. The finely-diced tomatoes and cashew cream that top the taco add a dash of sweetness, while the chopped onions bring some slight spice into the mix, creating the perfect combination of flavors. The highlight of the dish is the tortilla itself — following the theme of other ethically-sourced food at Cielo Rojo, it is made from organic, tender heirloom corn from Oaxaca.
The drunken mushroom quesadillas are perfect for someone looking for a richer option reminiscent of comfort food. The soft, meaty mushrooms and warm, stringy Oaxaca and Chihuahua cheeses create a deep flavor that contrasts with the chewy tortilla. The crunchy, scattered sunflower seeds and spicy salsa add an interesting touch, bringing together a mix of surprising textures. The bright yellow color of the tortillas and cilantro garnish are the crowning touch of the quesadillas.
Like the food, the small details at Cielo Rojo deserve incredibly high praise. The variety of options at the restaurant, from papas con rajas to salads with locally-sourced greens, makes it worth a visit for everyone, vegetarians and vegans included. The cheerful waitstaff put a smile on your face and the artful porcelain tableware is both practical and aesthetic. Cielo Rojo is the perfect spot for anyone looking for top-notch Mexican food in a cozy setting.
Cielo Rojo is located at 7056 Carroll Ave. and is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Visit www.cielo-rojo.com for a full menu.
Shifra Dayak. Hi, I'm Shifra and I'm a senior! Aside from journalism, I love theatre, music, dogs, Thai food and naps. More »