Classic Tables: Guajillo

Arlington's Mexican peppers are still spicy

A dinner at Guajillo is like an edible geography lesson in the regional cuisines of Mexico.

For 10 years, the Arlington restaurant has instructed diners and sated expats from the Mexican embassy with complex mole sauces and spices, including the restaurant's namesake chile pepper.

That pepper adds heat to Guajillo's complimentary salsa. Unlike many rival dips, this smoky, dense salsa is served warm with a basket of thin, salted chips and outshines the too-smooth guacamole ($5).

Traditional chocolate-based mole from Mexico's mountainous regions is smoky and warming over chicken ($16), as is subtle almond mole from San Pedro Atocpan in Mexico City, which slicks roasted duck breast as a special. Coastal flavors shine in a citrus-spiked shrimp ceviche ($13).

For an even broader swath, the Taconazo ($15) heaps together five different tacos. Go straight for the masita, chunks of citrus-marinated pork layered with spicy pickled onions. The restaurant slow-roasts the shoulder, then quickly fries the sweet, salty meat to create a crisp shell. The other tacos include achiote-marinated stewed lamb, pineapple-topped al pastor, steak with cilantro, and fried fish.

Through this weekend, the restaurant will offer a new lesson: Guajillo has prepared an array of Colombian flavors for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, including chorizo, empanadas, plantains and arepas.

Guajillo, 1727 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-807-0840 or guajillogrill.com