Graham Bartlett is no stranger to DC’s Mexican food scene. He spent years working as regional executive chef for restaurateur Richard Sandoval, at spots like El Centro D.F. and Masa 14. Then, he moved to the small-plates-driven Buena Vida in Silver Spring, owned by another Sandoval alum, Ivan Iricanin. Now, Bartlett is planning a Mexican place of his own. The casual Taco and Piña will open at the Village at Shirlington in early 2020.
Growing up, Bartlett’s “what I did last summer” stories were filled with tales of train rides through Mexico’s southern interior, and visiting marketplaces in Oaxaca and Puebla. “At the time I had no idea I was going to be a chef,” he says. “But looking back I think that’s where I got an affinity for it.”
When Bartlett began working for Sandoval, his travel to Mexico picked up again. Sandoval’s restaurant openings were often paired with research expeditions like the one Bartlett took to Guadalajara, where he toured tequila distilleries and mined inspiration from both fine-dining restaurants and home-cooked meals.
At Taco and Piña, Bartlett will cook his own interpretation of traditional Mexican cuisine, sometimes with a wink of Japanese influence. He’s planning creations like a chile relleno taco finished with tempura flakes, and crab chilaquiles with dashi salsa verde.
He’ll also put forth the dishes he loves to make for his own family—both in the kitchen and at home with his kids. He calls his avocado-and-black-bean tostada “the original avocado toast.”
Bartlett’s childhood trips were the inspiration for murals of images pulled from the Spanish comic books he picked up as a kid (they’re currently on loan from his nephew). The paintings will frame the 65-seat restaurant, which will also have a lounge area for sipping the rotating margarita of the week. Flavors from the experimental phase include frozen horchata and roasted pineapple. Those looking for something non-alcoholic can sip agua frescas.
Bartlett, a home brewer himself, is fascinated by Virginia breweries fermenting Mexican-style beers. He’ll showcase those local brands in bottles and on draft.
Taco and Piña. 4041 Campbell Ave., Arlington.