Vera Cocina & Bar

Image: Shrimp with a Chicken in the background.

Last Updated: November 2023


Before you get to the dining room at Vera, you pass the large bar area on the first floor and take stairs to the second floor, where you pass a lounge-like space with low tables and couches, all with music to match.  Then you get to the dining room, which has another bar stretching down one side.  The team here is clearly trying to create a vibe, and it is a lot of vibe, including retractable roof.  So, you may think the food is a secondary concern, but, in fact, the food is very good.  Even if you are just here to dine, it is reason enough.

The idea behind the place was to highlight the interplay between Arabic and Mexican culture.  The name comes from the port city of Veracruz, Mexico and the dishes are clear mashups of the culinary roots found on both the shores of the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico.  From our sampling, the more the flavors incorporated Middle Eastern spices the better.  Kous relleno is half zucchini stuffed with rice stewed in spices (Cinnamon? Nutmeg? Allspice? All of them?) and other elements like zucchini ragu, apples, pears, walnuts, peaches, raisins, cream of walnuts and pomegranate seeds.  The roasted chicken is smothered with herbs and a slight glaze accompanied by seasoned potatoes.  The seasoning brings depth and richness – not just pop.  The oyster ceviche with labneh leche de tigre gets a lot of love. Dishes that stick closer to traditional combinations also work, even if they don’t tend to have the same twist, like Veracruz shrimp in a briny red sauce with undertones of spicy red pepper and the “hummus” that is a large flat pita with dots of hummus rather than a bowl to be scooped up. 

Desserts may be the most edgy of the dishes.  A large piece of roasted acorn squash coated in cinnamon and centered with a scoop of labneh pistachio gelato, with the squash playing the role of a very dense bread pudding.  The other option is a triple-threat of Mexican sweetness with chocolate, corn, and mole. 

Cocktails are the focus of the beverage program, especially variations on a spiked coffee called carajillo that features a Spanish liqueur called Licor 43.  Contrary to the unrevised Post review, they do have a filled-out wine list both by the glass and bottle, with prices between $55 and $175. The list, though short, draws from Lebanon, Mexico, France, Spain, Greece, and the States.

The décor is full of accents suggesting the intended vibe such as cinder blocks, cactus along the wall, and thick nautical ropes draping the ceiling.  One oddity is the wood paneled floor tends to lift and fall – slightly, but noticeably – as people walk by, like a trampoline effect.  The focus on décor is not surprising considering one of the primary owners is Nayef Issa, who co-founded the very IG-able Residents in Dupont, also with surprisingly good food compared to expectations. Adding to the vibe, Vera shares ownership with the adjoining dance hall space next door.  Vera is among a couple other spots that may make you look beyond Union Market if you’re up this way.

Other Guidance: The Post accessibility guidance: “No barriers to entry; wheelchair users can be served in the ground-floor lounge, which has an ADA-approved restroom. Vera does not have a lift to the second floor.”  GF and vegetarians can do well.  As mentioned in the Post review, they do have a 90 minute cap on tables, but we went over without an issue with a later seating, but they may ask to move you to the lounge space to keep the reservations from falling too far behind.

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Cuisine: Mediterranean/Mexican
Neighborhood: Ivy City
Address: 2002 Fenwick St NE, Washington, DC 20002
Reservations: Tock

Other Critics/Voices:

Washington Post: Tom’s split review praised the food, but called out service glitches that appear to have been resolved once the restaurant settled in. For the record our biases are the exact opposite of this claim: “A truism in the business I cover: Diners tend to forgive even middling food provided the service is great. No matter how good the cooking, on the other hand, customers have a hard time accepting a restaurant that dismisses their needs.”

Washingtonian: Preview