Months ago, I drove by 9th Street NW in the Shaw Neighborhood of Washington, DC and noticed some colorful art on the windows of an upcoming restaurant. I was immediately intrigued. The restaurant in question is Espita Mezcaleria, a new mezcal concept opening on Tuesday, March 8th. Given that I am fascinated with all things Oaxaca (one of my dream culinary destinations), I stalked them on Instagram, counting the days for their opening. Luckily enough, I got a first look at this place and these are my thoughts:
Sneak Peek: Espita Mezcaleria
The Vibe: The first thing that you will notice upon entering Espita Mezcaleria is the colorful murals painted across the restaurant. Those are the work of Yescka, a Oaxacan street artist. I love the colorful murals depicting everything from butterflies to skeletons, to Frida Khalo. There is art to be seen everywhere at the restaurant: on the menus, the hand crafted mezcal shot glasses, and even the logo, which was designed by part owner Josh Phillips and his mother, artist Sandra Phillips.
The Mezcal: I am not a mezcal expert however, there’s one thing I am certain of: I love it. I love the smoky flavor and find it gentle enough to sip (as it should be). I have to admit it has been hard to touch tequila since I was introduced to mezcal. Owner Josh and his wife spent time in Oaxaca getting to know small batch producers which in turn creates a diverse list of mezcal to choose from. I had the chance to taste six different mezcals during my visit and my favorite are La Venenosa (and not it’s not because I love the name, which I do) and Mezcal Alipus edicion especial 2015. La Venenosa, as the name implies, has a very strong flavor, the smokiness is very present. I tasted it as I was eating the chicken tacos and it paired beautifully. Alipus is much lighter, with lots of floral notes, it’s perfect way to start the dining experience. Also I am going to sound shallow by saying this but…. I loved the labels of all the mezcals offered. The creative and colorful art draws you in… Also, not to miss are the cocktails on tap. The grapefruit and white peppercorn with mezcal was my favorite from the tap cocktail selection.
The Chef: Executive chef and partner Alexis Samayoa brings the flavors of Oaxaca with the classics of the region such a moles, tacos, and ceviches. Although Alexis is a fellow boricua, his kitchen staff is mostly from Mexico. He said is was very important to capture the essence of the comida casera (home cooked meal) of the region. They import their corn from Oaxaca, grind it in the kitchen and hand make their tortillas. I witnessed the doñitas (term of endearment for older Latin women) in the kitchen making the tortillas a mano, by hand with a smile on their face. Seeing the connection between Alexis and his staff said a lot about the end product.
The Food: I tried three dishes: The chicken tacos, eggplant sopes, and the chargrilled octopus. The chicken tacos are generously filled with a guisado of bell peppers and chicken. Nice, meaty, and the tortillas are delicious. The octopus was chargrilled with a silky avocado puree. Last but not least, the eggplant sopes. This was so good that I forgot to take a picture! Sopes are “cups” made of masa filled with meat or vegetables. The smoked eggplant salsa was amazing, if I could eat this everyday, I would be a vegetarian…
The verdict: The main complaint about Espita Mezcaleria in the DC food world is that it is too pricy. I did not see the prices that much different than in other places in the Shaw neighborhood. This place reminds me a lot of Cosme NYC, which has changed the game in New York City in terms of refined Mexican dishes. I am looking forward to returning to Espita Mezcaleria once it’s up and running.
Espita Mezcaleria, 1250 9th St NW, Washington, DC ; Website