José Andrés has plenty to be proud of. The Spanish-born chef’s restaurant empire, ThinkFoodGroup, includes 31 concepts, which span from the group’s home base in Washington, D.C., across the country to Los Angeles and way down to the Bahamas. Those spots — with offerings ranging from the haute plates at D.C.’s Minibar to open-fire paellas at New York’s Mercado Little Spain — have garnered a pair of Michelin stars and heaps of critical praise for the celebrated culinary entrepreneur.
Andrés also serves as the founder and figurehead of World Central Kitchen, a culinary nonprofit that advocates for food-system reform (especially protecting the rights of immigrants that keep the industry afloat) and fills indispensable disaster relief roles.For his efforts with the organization, including serving over 3.5 million meals in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, he’s been honored as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and was named the James Beard Foundation’s 2018 Humanitarian of the Year.
So it came as a pleasant surprise to Hopkins students when we learned that ThinkFoodGroup would be expanding Butterfly, the Mexican-inspired fast-casual concept that’s earned considerable praise for its first D.C. location, to a stall in Levering Kitchens.
According to the Eater, Butterfly is meant to “slim down” the menu at Oyamel, Andrés’ refined but casual Mexican spot. The menu centers around tacos, tortas and salads, plus chips and guacamole, a handful of salsas and fruit with chile salt and lime. Lucky for us, the prices are actually a bit more modest at the Levering location, where they match the going rates for sandwiches and salads at other stalls, than they are in D.C.
During the counter’s first week in operation, I braved the line — which wraps around Levering’s seating during between-class rushes — on four occasions to check out the offerings. To be clear, I’m not Mexican and have little experience with Mexican cooking (aside from studying a couple cookbooks on Yucatán and Oaxacan cuisine for a past internship), so I wouldn’t dare to assess Butterfly’s authenticity. Still, here are my two cents on whether the plates I sampled are worth the wait and the swipe.
Let’s start with the tacos, which can fairly be called the flagship selection of the menu. The shredded beef in the taco chilorio de res was well-seasoned and sufficiently smoky, but thankfully didn’t overwhelm the other ingredients. Raw white onion, radish and micro-cilantro provided some freshness and acidity (I could have used much more, quite frankly), but a squeeze of lime was still mandatory.
Unfortunately, the clearly store-bought tortillas — I had high hopes, since the Hub reported that they’d be made in-house — were tough and stale, a cardinal sin according to any taco aficionado. A pour of salsa yucateca, which suffered from a dearth of salt and absent acidity, added little more than habanero heat.
The tortas were a significant improvement. White rolls are toasted to order, which elevates the sandwich as the La Bandiera-brand tortillas bogged down the tacos. A generous swipe of guacamole and a bit of smoky, slightly acidic salsa serrano brightened up the torta de hongos and balanced the naturally salty Maggi sauce on the mushrooms.
The only drawback for this menu section was that hot-holding the main fillings results in less-than-stellar consistencies, rendering the mushrooms a bit slimy and the chicken milanese a touch soggy. But again, the crust on those rolls and the texture from toppings like queso oaxaca make for a very solid $8 sandwich. Plus, the chicken breast was surprisingly juicy and flavorful.
If you had a big enough breakfast before hitting Butterfly for lunch, the salads are a surprising highlight. The ensalada verde included exceedingly bright veggies and herbs, with toasted pepitas lending some welcome richness and chile–lime dressing and queso fresco bringing the right amount of salt and spice. I’d suggest adding half an avocado to make for a more substantial meal.
All told, we’re pretty lucky to boast a concept by a top-tier celebrity chef in a dining hall, and I, for one, am grateful to have a decent Mexican fix close by. Is it worth the wait? I’m not sure, but I’d wager that it will only be a couple weeks before the hype quiets down and you can give it a try yourself without skipping a class or two.