Food

A Bigger, Brighter Chaia Opens in Mt. Vernon Triangle with Vegetarian Tacos and Draft Margaritas

Look for more seasonal goodness on the "farm to taco" shop menu.
Vegetarian taqueria Chaia opens in Mt. Vernon Triangle with new dishes and drinks (pictured: crispy tlayudas). Photograph by Maya Oren.

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.

Chaia vegetarian tacos Mt. Vernon Triangle taqueria
Service is counter-order, though the menu isn’t designed to be customizable). Photograph by Jennifer Chase.

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).

Chaia owners Suzanne Simon (left) and Bettina Stern. Photograph by Jennifer Chase
Chaia owners Suzanne Simon (left) and Bettina Stern. Photograph by Jennifer Chase

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.

Chai tacos with seasonal combinations (left to right): creamy kale and potato, citrus-roasted beets, and mushrooms with salsa roja and feta.
Chai tacos with seasonal combinations (left to right): creamy kale and potato, citrus-roasted beets, and mushrooms with salsa roja and feta.

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Anna Spiegel
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.