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Alegria
111 Church Street N
Vienna
703-261-6575
Hours:/sun, 4:30-9 p.m.; Mon-Thurs, 4:40-10 p.m.; Sat-Sun, 4:30-10:20 p.m.
Price range--reasonable
www.alegriaonchurch.com

Mexican food aficionados frequently lament the local shortage—no, the near absence—of really good Mexican food. Newcomer Alegria, sister restaurant to longtime favorite Bazin's on Church in Vienna, may well satisfy the cravings.

Yet, Alegria's food may also surprise. It is "nutritionally correct"—fresh, house-made, gluten free—and the familiar dishes are on the menu—tacos, enchilada, quesadilla, fajitas, empanadas—but with a different, and very appetizing, twist that could be described as a contemporary redefinition of traditional Mexican favorites.

As a start, the fresh house-made tortillas are very thin and very pliable, with the distinctive flavor of fresh masa. The chips, too, are fresh and thin and crisp, and not the least bit salty. (One basket is gratis, but these chips are addictive so a second basket, at $2, is well worth the cost.)

Too, most dishes are not overloaded with ingredients or overwhelmed by many different flavors. In that way it is possible to actually enjoy the taste of the carefully matched ingredients, of the shredded slow cooked short ribs in the enchilada with chihuahua cheese and red chili sauce or the crispy barbecue duck with chili crema and red salsa, for example. Both of those dishes happen to be excellent choices.

Fortunately all dishes are small plates and sharing is encouraged, which gives you a chance to sample a number of dishes. For two normal appetites, four dishes plus dessert is almost too much given the lure of those chips and the two salsas—one green tomatillo, the other a hotter red—that come with them.

The tacos are small, maybe three or four bites each. Here choices include slow-cooked pork confit with browned onions, pickled jalapenos and roasted pineapple, and crispy Baja fish tacos with cabbage, lime, mayonnaise and pickled jalapeno.

Three kinds of seviche are offered—sea scallops, tuna, and mahi-mahi—each seasoned differently, or you can try some of each with a seviche trio.

And there are three different kinds of fajitas--herbed chicken, lime-marinated beef tenderloin and achiote marinated white fish—each served with browned onions, roasted poblano rajas, black beans and rice and, of course, with fresh, warm corn tortillas.

Leave room for one of the vegetable dishes, maybe the sweet plantains, the spicy jicama salad or the roasted potatoes in mole poblano, and also for dessert., where choices include tres leches cake, corn flan with blueberry lime sauce, and Oscar's alfajores, three delicate shortcake cookies with dulce de leche filling.

Alegria has an amazing list of tequilas, along with an assortment of non-domestic beers, mostly Mexican, an impressive assortemnt of margueritas, and a carefully selected wine list.

Located next to its sister restaurant, Aletria, with its Mexican motif and brick walls, is lively and noisy. The service is efficient and, given the size of the kitchen, quick--all of which suggest a speedy return, especially for those who appreciate fine Mexican food.