Mike Isabella Says Adios to Bandolero

The “Top Chef” alum pulls out of the Mexican restaurant to focus on his own projects.

Chef Mike Isabella inside Bandolero in 2012. Photographs by Scott Suchman

No more
Top Chef tacos for the Georgetown set. The
Washington Post reported this morning that
Mike Isabella parted ways with Bandolero and partner
Jonathan Umbel. Former chef de cuisine
Tony Starr, who previously worked with Isabella at Graffiato and Zaytinya,
has been promoted to executive chef.

Isabella says he went all-in on the Mexican concept at the start, overseeing everything
from the menu to the name and decor. Still, not everything was under his control in
the venture, and his own projects have taken precedence of late.

“These are my restaurants,” says Isabella, referring to his newly opened Greek spot,
and adjacent sandwich shop, G.
“I really couldn’t put the time and effort into Bandolero that I wanted to. If I’m
going to have my name on something, I want to be there as much as possible.”

While Isabella has seen success with his other ventures, Bandolero proved a rocky
venture from the start. Reviewers were less than impressed; the taqueria received
one star from our own
Todd Kliman, and two from the
Tom Sietsema (though with zingers like, “Desserts are bad, which is good, because you don’t want
to stick around Bandolero any longer than necessary,” you’d think it would be less).
And that’s just on paper. Rumors of Isabella’s departure have been circulating for
months, through lawsuits between Umbel and the building’s landlord, amendments to the management agreement, and finally a temporary closure due to a failed health inspection.

As of now, Bandolero will continue to operate as usual, minus the Isabella name. As
for Isabella, he’s set to launch the first evening tasting menu at his five-day-old
sandwich shop on Saturday. If nothing else, he says the experience with Bandolero
was a learning experience.

“I’ll only own my own restaurants from here on out,” he says.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.