Oyamel is Jose Andres's Mexican small plates outpost, serving consistently well-prepared, inventive, and accessibly priced dishes that your average, twenty-something, white-collared Washingtonian can afford as a splurge now and again.
The ambiance is upbeat, but not nearly as frenetic as Andres's Greek/Middle Eastern inspired restaurant Zaytinya. This place is a restaurant foremost, and it is possible to have conversation without having to scream in your companion's ear. Service, however, can be a little intrusive, as my waiter consistently interrupted conversation with my dining companion. I know he was just trying to be helpful and attentive, but part of the art of quality service is to ask patrons their status during lulls and to not interrupt when the guests are trying to have quiet conversation with each other.
The food was of fairly high quality that you won't find in many other restaurants in DC. The one exception to this was my lengua taco. While well made, I know of several tacquerias where I could have purchased one of the same quality. But, the Mexican squash salad was refreshing and moreish. The Papas al Mole were crispy and the sauce dark and flavorful. Although they were just fries, they were excellent fries. The plaintain fritters were sweet and tasty, though the sauce was fairly forgetabble. On the other hand, the tamal verde had a bright and zippy sauce, but the chicken breast was kind of bland. The guacamole was nice and well made.
Other dishes I have enjoyed immensely in the past have been the scallops pasilla chile and pumpkin seed sauce, the short ribs, and the taco with confit of baby pig (which you cannot get at the other tacquerias in town).
I know this sounds like I am damning the food with faint praise, but the food really is generally well made. I have no qualms about coming back, especially because, generally speaking, you will not find food like this anywhere else in DC.