Step into the bright and cheerful new Mexican-style restaurant on the corner of Broad and North Lee and take a quick trip anywhere south, south of here to enjoy warmer climes and sunny skies and escape the the cold and windy winter to enjoy a delicious meal at Cuates Grill.
Streams of colored lights twinkle and hang from the ceiling amid yellow, blue, and orange walls, some glass walls to admit the outdoors and brighten up the surroundings.
Co-owner Luis Merchan told me he designed Cuates’ interior, which he refreshes with finds from travels he makes, like the sombreros hanging on the wall. Its menu matches the decor.
The wide and varied choices of Mexican-style dishes range from spinach enchiladas ($11.95) to a seafood broth of shrimp, scallops, salmon, calamari and clams (“Cazuela de Mariscos,” $16.95 or $25.95) tortilla soup ($10.95) with all the basics and more one would expect at a Mexican restaurant, including “street tacos” ($2.95 and more ).
It’s hard to resist the crunchy crispy fries and salsa that come with every meal. Before my entree arrives, I always try to refrain from consuming too many that are made on the spot, Merchan said, but these, I gobbled up.
When it comes to Mexican food, I’m so boring, I always order my favorite shredded chicken enchiladas with rice and beans, usually carrying an enchilada home, but not to Cuates. I cleaned my plate ($14.95).
My friend, Jessie, usually orders the same thing, chicken fajitas ($18.95), which she found “delicious” at Cuates. They were grilled and served over onions, green peppers, celery and tomatoes, with Mexican rice, refried beans, sour cream and flour tortillas that were gladly replenished when Jessie asked for more. .
How she found room for the tasty sopaipillas for dessert baffled me who (surprise!) found room to help her. The sopaipillas are fried puff pastry with honey and cinnamon ($6.95), the taste is as good as the description.
On another visit, I ordered the Fiesta Quinoa Salad ($12.95) and, following health experts raving about the benefits of eating salmon, I added a serving (+$4) which was delicious with corn and tomato bites, spinach leaves, avocado and more. This healthy meal made me feel mentally good enough to eat more sopaipillas, but I held back. Sigh.
Meanwhile, Merchan took time out of his busy Cuates life to chat with me and tell me that the word “cuates” means more than “amigos”. Cuates is a closer friendship he and co-owner Sergio Kehl have shared for decades, cemented by the opening of their first restaurant in Georgetown in 2008 and then in Alexandria in 2014.
Merchan earned his restaurant stripes working for the food trade in his native Ecuador, before coming to the United States and working for the Ecuadorian Embassy for two years. Along the way, at another restaurant, he met Kehl.
Oh, yeah, they struggled with Covid: “What was I going to do?” Merchan recalls: “It was our lives! I have an opportunity in this world. Why should I run? I needed to stay open, follow the rules, cleaning, safety. I decided to do my best,” which he did. With perhaps only one employee to work in the kitchen, Alexandria could remain open for deliveries. Gradually the business returned and when the owners needed to sit outside, Alexandria granted the permit within two days.
In Georgetown, without a permit, they put tables outside in an alley, and Georgetown immediately gave them a permit.
It only took 40 days to open the restaurant in Georgetown; he started on Cuates in Falls Church 11 months ago and still no liquor license. “Falls Church needs to be business-friendly,” said Merchan, reluctant to speak ill of its new city government. “We can work together, to grow as a community.”
His reasons for coming to the small town echo those heard across town: “We’ve always loved Falls Church. We also looked at McLean but got lucky and found this place [the former location of the Locker Room]. We like the neighborhood, the traffic, its proximity to other businesses.
Once Cuates gets his liquor license (waiting over a month since the application was submitted before Christmas), there’s no doubt his intimate bar will become a popular watering hole for local yokels. Then, sales of beer, margaritas and other alcoholic beverages will boost revenue by about 30% and set Cuates’ new location on the path to success, like its old restaurants.
The restaurant has a “loyalty program” where customers can earn points and redeem them for later discounts. Park on site or on the street.
Cuates Grill, 502 West Broad St. #5, Falls Church 20046. (703) 259-4846 Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m. to midnight. [email protected] www.cuatesgrillmenu.com Park in the center or on the street.
This article is part of the “Restaurant Spotlight” series, which will feature a local restaurant and its menu each month. To suggest that your restaurant be covered, contact Amanda Snead, Managing Editor at [email protected]