In late February, I had an excellent taco lunch at Buckaroo’s, a not-yet-opened restaurant next to Comet Ping Pong. The lunch was a word-of-mouth pop-up from the crew behind Buck’s Fishing and Camping and Comet. But when I saw the chef’s name, Christian Irabién, the fantastic fried sunfish tacos I’d just eaten made sense. The Oyamel alum had one of the hottest pop-ups in recent memory, the modern Mexican Amparo Fondita. His plans for a big-deal restaurant at La Cosecha, the slow-out-of-the-gate Latin emporium near Union Market, had been scuttled. And now, here he was, quietly turning out bright salads, braises, and tacos in quiet Forest Hills. I couldn’t wait for the place to open. I immediately texted my editor who lives nearby: “It was SO GOOD.”
And then, Covid-19 hit. I figured Buckaroo’s, which hadn’t even actually opened by that point, was kaput before it even started. But after taking a few weeks to regroup, Irabién is opening a different concept, Muchas Gracias, in the tiny space. The hybrid grocery store/contact-free carryout operation debuts today.
The market will soon be stocked with staples that are sold out at bigger grocery stores, like toilet paper, flour, and yeast. Also coming shortly: CSA boxes filled with produce and other goods from the farmers Comet, Buck’s, and Irabién have worked with. Customers will have the option to either buy a single box, or buy one and donate another to out-of-work immigrants in the restaurant community. Some proceeds will also benefit two non-profits: Tables Without Borders and Friends and Family Meal.
Irabién’s new menu is more streamlined than the original one, since his supply chain has somewhat diminished. The Chihuahua native can no longer get, say, cactus. It’s also more traditional: “there is no push here to be a chef-driven concept.” A masa ball soup that was inspired by local cookbook writer Joan Nathan’s matzo-ball version is about as whimsical as it gets. In the future, Irabién hopes to expand beyond Mexican into other Latin American cuisines.
There’s a $55 family-style taco spread, with housemade corn tortillas, Rancho Gordo beans and rice, chips and salsa, and fillings like a dark, earthy short rib birria that’s marinated in mole, or a bright, stewy chicken tinga with tomatillos and hatch chilies. Irabién is also throwing in a few crispy grasshoppers for snacking. Single tacos are available too, along with snacks like a chihuahua-cheese quesadilla, guacamole, and vegan cashew queso. (I can vouch for the awesomeness of the regular queso dip.) “We sat down and asked ourselves, what are things that make us feel really good?,” Irabién says. “These are dishes that sort of feel like a hug when you eat them.”
Muchas Gracias is open Wednesday through Sunday from 4 to 8:45 PM. It’s available for delivery on Caviar, DoorDash, and ChowNow.
Muchas Gracias, 5029 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-244-5000).