Mike Isabella Plans for Pepita, a Mexican Cantina

Top-shelf margaritas from a Top Chef alum.

Chef Mike Isabella will open a casual Mexican cantina in Ballston, around the corner from his upcoming Kapnos Taverna. Photograph by Greg Powers.

Restaurateur Mike Isabella is a chef on the move between the upcoming Kapnos Taverna, set for Ballston this fall, and a second Graffiato in Richmond. Up next: Pepita, a casual Mexican cantina slated to open in Arlington in early 2015. 

The concept at 4000 Wilson Boulevard centers on the laid-back spots Isabella loves to visit in coastal Mexico, with only 40 seats and a small covered patio with access to the bar through open windows. A small lunch and dinner menu of a dozen-odd items will include traditional tacos, guacamole, ceviche, torta sandwiches, soups, and more, plus oft-changing specials such as roast suckling pig. A selection of tequilas and mezcals will be broader, with a variety of margaritas mixed with fresh fruit juices. Barkeep Taha Ismail—also behind the drinks at Isabella’s three local spots—plans for build-your-own margs with a variety of spirits and mixers, as well as hot and frozen Mexican coffees. Furthering the cantina feel will be an interior decked out with wooden furniture, colorful tiles, and plants. 

This isn’t Isabella’s first foray into Mexican food. The toque partnered in Georgetown’s Bandolero when it initially opened, before pulling out to focus on his own projects. Arlington itself may be in for an influx of eats from south of the border. Chef Victor Albisu recently shared plans for Bombazo, a Mexican street-food restaurant, and a second Taco Bamba location. Stay tuned for more details as they develop. 

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.