“I’m used to big grand openings — fireworks, big staff, all those things,” says Graham Bartlett. The chef helped open spots like El Centro and Buena Vida with boldface names like Richard Sandoval and Ivan Iricanin, but his own restaurant is being born into a very different world. Even a quiet unveiling feels like a huge feat.
Taco and Piña, which debuts today in Shirlington, is open for delivery and carryout-only until Virginia restaurants are permitted to allow dine-in customers with social distancing measures—a new reality that may set in as early as next week. Regardless, Bartlett says he was prepared to debut in the midst of a pandemic. When Covid hit the area in March, his team switched gears from planning a traditional launch to figuring out next steps, and talking to restaurant colleagues across the country. Learning from their experiences, Bartlett pared down the opening menu and posted signs around the entrance to help maintain the restaurant’s social distancing measures. Taco and Piña was always intended to be carryout-friendly, easing the transition into takeout-only service.
Dishes are designed to take creative license. Carnitas are marinated in orange Fanta before being stuffed into tacos, and “nacho fries” layer melty queso and tajin over crispy fries. The menu isn’t limited to Mexican fare, either. Take the spicy sambal chicken enchiladas or crab chilaquiles drizzled with dashi-spiked salsa verde.
There’s also booze to-go. The restaurant sells four-packs of Virginia and boxed wine. Also on tap: trendy pouch cocktails, like a roasted pineapple frozen margarita.
“It’s almost like you’re having a Capri Sun as a kid,” says Bartlett.
Taco and Piña. 4041 Campbell Ave., Arlington.