Barbara Adam and Peter Cornish road-test a new authentic Mexican joint, District Federal, in District 2. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
Mexicans have a reputation as being friendly and sociable people who love vibrant colours, catchy music and any excuse for a party.
Vietnam’s Le Holdsworth and her business partner, Australian Andrew Homan, have distilled these quintessential Mexican traits into their new restaurant and bar in District 2’s busy Xuan Thuy Street.
District Federal, after the original name of Mexico City, is a laid back and welcoming place, with an atmosphere and layout that cater to families and the after-work crowd at the same time.
Those who have gathered to dine have two sections at their disposal, the open-aired front section, which looks into La Cocina (the kitchen). Here, fairy lights twinkle above, banana trees sway beside and Latino tracks provide an upbeat vibe.
In the rear dining area, where the bar is also located, a bright mural full of iconic Mexican images tells the story of agave, the plant that’s used to make tequila.
To insure they serve only the very best Mexican (not Tex-Mex) food, Le and Andrew imported Mexican chef Luis Reyes to create the menu and train the kitchen staff.
Luis’s menu focuses on homemade and authentic Mexican food. The tacos and tostadas are made from dried corn from Dalat, ground, soaked, flattened and cooked in a 24-hour process.
Luis, who is no stranger to Asia, having worked in Yangon and Bangkok, brought with him a huge stash of dried jalapeno chillies, which are used in many dishes, including DF’s homemade chipotle sauce.
Vegetarians are catered for with a range of soups, salads and the delicious Siracha and lime roasted cauliflower topping for the tacos and tostadas.
The platters of three soft tacos (VND185,000) or tostadas (VND165,000) are perfect for sharing. Choose your base (soft taco or tostada), then choose between chicken tinga, pork carnitas, beef barbacoa, fish taco, devilled prawn, cauliflower, or a combination of any three.
DF’s street corn is elevated beyond a simple barbecued carb with the addition of meltingly delicious homemade fresh cheese and chilli flakes (VND80,000).
Sweet-tooths are also catered for, with a sublime Carlota lemon tart (VND120,000) and a heavenly fried sugary cinnamon-y Churros (VND125,000).
“Everything is fresh here,” Andrew said. “Nothing out of a bottle, except the beer. And of course the tequila.”
For those more interested in DF’s drinks experience, take a seat at the bar, where four slushy machines churn a mesmerising 60 litres of frozen margarita.
The original lime version of the frozen margarita (VND145,000) is on point, but the non-traditional watermelon and basil version is also a magnificent choice to start an evening, especially when paired with DF’s guacamole (VND95,000) with crunchy homemade corn chips, sprinkled with fresh wasabi flowers.