If the smile on his face was any indication, chef Mike Isabella was the happiest man on M Street last night. Whether it was plating irresistible party food, greeting friends, or racing from one end to the other of his new Georgetown restaurant, Bandolero, the ear-to-ear grin didn’t leave his face. It may have been practically monsooning outside, but inside no one noticed.
“I’m so excited,” Isabella said, taking in the festive atmosphere while trays of food and potent margaritas flew by. He said he’s also excited about being in Georgetown, a neighborhood that’s missed DC’s culinary explosion due to high rents and restrictive liquor laws. Those facts didn’t deter Isabella, who said he’s “ready to start a movement back to Georgetown.” Now that he’s opened up shop, he said, he expects “others will follow.”
One of those others may be Spike Mendelsohn, a friend of Isabella’s who was also a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef and helms Good Stuff Eatery and We, the Pizza, both on Capitol Hill. I asked Isabella if he had any intel on the rumors that Mendelsohn is coming to Georgetown. “Nothing specific,” he said, “but Spike said to me, ‘We’re gonna be neighbors soon.’” The location Mendelsohn is rumored to be considering, the former Morso restaurant, is half a block from Bandolero. Another Top Chef contestant who is a friend of Isabella’s, Jennifer Carroll, walked up and gave him a big hug. They appeared together in season six, when the show was in Las Vegas.
There are parties with food, and then there are parties with incredible food. Last night’s blast was the latter, which is why guests grouped close to the kitchen—all the better to get first grab at tacos or tostadas made with crab, pork belly, or mahi-mahi; snapper with corn; poblano and cheese empanadas; sopes of lamb and goat cheese; and a large round table filled with bowls of guacamole, pumpkin-seed-and-jalapeño spread, and salsa. Isabella called Bandolero’s food “modern Mexican,” and emphasized it should not be confused with Southwestern or Tex-Mex cuisine.
Regardless of its provenance, the food was a hit. No one left hungry. Everyone did leave with a bit of swag: a Bandolero T-shirt, black to keep with the restaurant’s “day of the dead” theme, and attached to it a little plastic bag holding one perfect macaroon.