Back in June, Hank’s Oyster Bar owner Jamie Leeds told DC Empanadas owner Anna Bran Leis she was thinking of opening up another restaurant next to her Petworth cocktail bar. Leeds asked her longtime friend to come take a look at it with her.
After the visit, Leeds asked Leis what she thought. She loved it.
“That’s where you’re going to open your restaurant,” Leeds said.
“I’m like, ‘What? What are you talking about?'” Leis recalls. “It was totally a ruse. The whole thing was to get me down there.”
Leeds never planned to expand there; she just wanted Leis to consider Petworth for her first restaurant, rather than the suburbs where she’d been looking. And it worked. Leis and her husband Shawn Leis, who operate a food truck and a Union Market stall, are now planning to open a Mexican spot called Taqueria del Barrio at 821 Upshur St., NW. It replaces Domku, which closed in May.
The restaurant and bar will center around tacos, tortas, and other traditional Mexican dishes. And yes, there will also be some empanadas. In fact, the landlords like the empanadas so much that they added a provision to the lease that requires the restaurant to serve them.
Taqueria de Barrio will have two types of housemade tortillas—corn and a “paleo” version made with almond flour. The taco menu will focus on the classics: lengua (tongue), al pastor (pork), carne asada (steak), and chicken tinga (shredded chicken). There will also be seasonal tacos, rotating vegetarian options like cactus, and occasional fusion-y specials. “But for the most part, it’s going to be legit, real Mexican food,” Leis says. “That’s hard to find.”
The menu will also include a torta stuffed with tongue, black bean puree, pickled red onions, guacamole, and pico de gallo, as well as a huaraches, oblong-shaped fried tortillas topped with black bean puree, meat, onions, cilantro, and salsa. For dessert, there will be twists on tres leches cake and upside-down pineapple cake, as well as coconut panna cotta and Mexican chocolate mousse. The restaurant will be open for dinner to start, with weekday lunch and brunch to follow.
Of course, margaritas (including a prickly pear version) and buckets of Mexican beer will be in order. Other cocktails from bartender Chris Martino incorporate ingredients like mole-infused vermouth, banana and cinnamon, or pink peppercorn and sumac.
The owners aren’t looking to have kitschy Day of the Dead decor, but the Mexico City-inspired design will incorporate a few sugar skulls and bright colors.
The taqueria is slated to open at the end of February or early March. Meanwhile, Leis, along with partners Victoria Harris and Warren Brown (of CakeLove fame), are still working to get their medical cannabis edibles company DC Taste Buds up and running. “We’re at the end of process,” she says. “We’re just trying to get the paperwork where it needs to be.”
Taqueria del Barrio. 821 Upshur St., NW.