When Suzanne Simon and Bettina Stern launched their vegetarian taco stand at local farmers’ markets in 2013, the trend toward “healthy-ish,” veggie-centric eating was just catching on. Five years later, it’s the rage du jour, and the duo are ready to open a second fast-casual Chaia taqueria in Mt. Vernon Triangle on Tuesday.
“Most people are realizing you don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat vegetables,” says Simon.
The second, warm wood and plant-filled space is roomier than the Georgetown original with seating for around 38. Patrons will find a larger menu as well. Seasonal taco trios on homemade, griddled corn tortillas remain the star. Staples include braised mushrooms with salsa roja and feta, but you’ll also find rotating combinations such as roasted acorn squash with lemony ricotta, fennel, and chilies.
New “beyond tacos” menu items include seasonally rotating tlayudas (like a crispy, open-face taco), soups, chilaquiles, quesadillas, and an ancient grain bowl topped with combinations like cauliflower al pastor, smoky greens, lime yogurt, and a beet-pickled egg. All can be adjusted slightly—the kitchen offers plenty of vegan/gluten-free modifications—though the menu isn’t customizable like a lot of fast-casuals (not necessarily a bad thing).
Drinks also go well beyond your average counter-order shop, including a lineup of draft cocktails such as a classic margarita, mezcal-grapefruit Paloma, and a hot apple shrub toddy for winter. (The warm, vinegary libations also come in booze-less flavors like lemon-ginger.) For dessert, there’s a lineup of vegan and gluten-free sweets like a seven-spice chocolate bar.
Simon and Stern have grown Chaia slowly on purpose, especially compared to other “scalable” fast-casuals. They’re currently eyeing another “small” DC project—and possibly an expansion outside the city.
“We’re deliberate,” says Stern. “We don’t want to be a flash in the pan.”
Chaia. 615 I St., NW. Open daily, 11 AM to 10 PM.