An Early Look at Masa 14

Fusion cuisine became trendy back in the ’80s. People who weren’t even born when the first bok-choy-stuffed taco hit menus can now legally vote, drink, and pay taxes. So what makes Masa 14, a new Latin/Asian restaurant that opened its doors Monday, think it can make an impression?

Well, the neighborhood doesn’t hurt. The area around 14th and U streets, Northwest, which was being called “up-and-coming” only five years ago, is now one of the city’s liveliest. The Black Cat is there. So is Bar Pilar, Cork, Busboys and Poets, and Ben’s Chili Bowl. Not bad neighbors for a new restaurant courting a mix of young professionals and college students.

The drinks list helps, too. Masa 14 is styling itself as DC’s first tequila bar. We counted 119 varieties of tequila on the opening menu, and there are also 62 wines, 14 beers on tap, and a few signature cocktails. They’ll be served until 2 AM during the week and 3 on weekends.

The atmosphere is moody and minimalist but cozy. The bar runs an impressive 65 feet down one wall, and design touches such as exposed brick and scrubbed-steel ceiling beams add an industrial vibe. The center of the restaurant is taken up by a dramatic, slate-gray staircase, even though the upstairs isn’t open yet for seating (a rooftop might come later). The restaurant’s 28-seat private dining room will be encased in glass walls and situated up front.

The menu is filled with Asian small plates with Latin accents, such as barbecue eel with pickled jalepeños ($6), Kobe meatballs with cotija cheese and smoked-tomato sauce ($10), and wok-fried okra with chipotle aïoli ($5).

The mix of cultures is reflected in the restaurant’s ownership. Denver-based chef Richard Sandoval, who owns 13 other restaurants including Zengo in DC’s Penn Quarter and La Sandía in Tysons Corner Center, grew up in Mexico City. His partner, Kaz Sushi Bistro chef/owner Kaz Okochi, is from Japan. Antonio Burrell, who most recently led the kitchen at CommonWealth in Columbia Heights, is manning the stoves. Can they make a case for a fusion comeback? We’ll see. But maybe there’s a reason the cuisine has been around longer than I have.

Open Monday through Thursday 5 to 2, Friday 5 to 3, Saturday 11 AM to 3 AM, Sunday 11 AM to 2 AM.