Food

Republic Cantina Wants to Bring Legit Tex-Mex to DC

Enchiladas and margaritas from the Republic Kolache team are coming to Truxton Circle
Republic Cantina will serve breakfast tacos in the mornings. Photo by Chris Svetlik.

It’s safe to say that the state of Tex-Mex in DC is pretty bad. Texas native and Republic Kolache founder Chris Svetlik tries to be a little more diplomatic: “There’s room for improvement,” he says.

He’s hoping to make things a little bit better with the opening of Republic Cantina in Truxton Circle next summer. The restaurant will serve kolaches, coffee, and breakfast tacos in the mornings, and Tex-Mex favorites like fajitas and enchiladas for lunch and dinner. Fingers crossed for some proper queso.

“People have these perceptions of it as a little low-brow—the bastardized, gringo version of Mexican food,” Svetlik says. “But if you grew up eating it, you know that that’s not the case. Tex-Mex has this really interesting immigrant food story.”

Svetlik helped introduce Washington to another beloved Texan staple, the kolache, through a series of pop-ups starring the stuffed sweet and savory pastries. He’s since grown the retail operation and tested the waters for something more with Republic Taco, which sells breakfast tacos exclusively through UberEats delivery and catering.

A similar line-up of tacos (chorizo and egg; bean and cheese) will be available at Republic Cantina, and the restaurant will make its own flour tortillas. The rest of the menu will be split between Tex-Mex classics—”giving the people what they want”—and some more playful dishes with an eye toward evolving the cuisine.

Svetlik has been experimenting with the intersection of Tex-Mex and Texas-style barbecue. He also wants to feature some fun sandwiches such as a play off a Monte Cristo called a Jesucristo. The deep-fried sandwich would be stuffed with chorizo, carnitas, brisket, and Mexican cheeses, then served with guava jam. Svetlik also wants to use the dough from his kolaches for new purposes, such as doughnuts or Texas toast for sandwiches.

“The question we ask ourselves is: what does creative, exciting Tex-Mex look like without destroying the things that make Tex-Mex great?,” Svetlik says. He is still searching for a chef, ideally with more of a fine dining background, to create a final menu.

The bar will serve margaritas, of course, and possibly some mezcal flights. Texan and Mexican beers are no-brainers, but Svetlik would like to be among the first to carry some craft labels from the Lone Star State.

Republic Cantina aims to avoid the tackiness and kitsch of so many sombrero-filled dining rooms. The restaurant will be housed in a 100-year-old industrial building, formerly used as horse stables and one of the city’s first automobile garages, with archways and a stucco roof. Svetlik wants to give it a warm, casual “cantina vibe.”

“This definitely won’t be a Disney version of a Mexican restaurant,” he says.

Republic Cantina. 57 N St., NW.

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.