Following the departures of two chefs within six months, one-time hotspot Emilie’s is rebranding itself as an entirely new restaurant—with a new chef, menu, and name. Paraiso, a taqueria and mezcaleria, will replace the Capitol Hill dining room at the end of November.
Owner Sam Shoja has been interested in opening a Mexican restaurant for a while, and the restaurant’s recent shakeups offered the right time. He’s tapped Geovanny Beltran, a Mexican immigrant from Guerrero, to lead the kitchen. Beltran was previously the chef at 14 Street ramen restaurant Jinya (a franchise which Shoja owns).
Beltran’s lunch and dinner menus—available for takeout, delivery, and dine-in—will combine street-food twists and traditional home-cooking from all over Mexico. The starters list features street corn garnished with Takis (rolled corn chips), and shrimp ceviche with mango, green apple, and jicama. The ten taco options, served on housemade tortillas, will include barbacoa, lengua (tongue), cochinita pibil (pulled pork braised with achiote and orange), and fried eggplant. Among the larger plates: braised lamb shank with mole and a ground-beef-and-cheese dish served in half a pineapple.
The front bar will stock a wide selection of mezcals, and the cocktail menu will include mezcal twists on an old-fashioned and Moscow mule, as well as a blood- orange margarita. Every day, servers will randomly give out a handful of “loteria” cards for free cocktails. The cards are part of the “Mexican town fair” vibe that the restaurant is going for, complete with neon lights, bold signs, and art from Mexican artists.
During the pandemic, Emilie’s opened a market inside its dining room. That will continue, but the focus is on Mexican-inspired products. Look out for salsas, housemade tortilla chips, batched cocktails, and bottles of mezcal. There will also be daytime coffee and pastries, such as pumpkin empanadas.
The new name means “paradise” in Spanish. The name “Emilie’s” had been a personal one to former chef Kevin Tien, who split with the restaurant less than a year after opening. It was an homage to a close family friend as well his now-wife, Emily.
The relationship between Shoja and Tien turned particularly sour at the start of the pandemic, as both sides butted heads over how to handle the business’s finances and operations. At one point, according to former employees, Shoja changed the locks, so Tien couldn’t access the building. At another point, Tien changed bank accounts, so Shoja couldn’t access funds. The two finally parted ways in June.
Former Honeysuckle and Vidalia chef Hamilton Johnson was brought in to replace Tien, but he was gone within two months as the business underwent financial strain. “It just turned into a different situation than what I initially expected,” Johnson told Washington City Paper. “There was a cloud over the place from the Kevin-and-Sam split that just never went away. It was just an uncomfortable situation. And with just the sheer lack of revenue, it made for the best decision to be laid off.”
Tien has since helped launch an Asian barbecue pop-up called Wild Tiger BBQ, and more recently, he landed a gig as executive chef of Moon Rabbit, a modern Vietnamese replacing Kith and Kin at the Wharf. Meanwhile, Johnson will lead Glover Park Grill, an American grill from Schlow Restaurant Group set to open later this month. Emilie’s investor Johann Moonesinghe continues to be involved in Paraiso.
“We just wanted to have a fresh start, a fresh process,” says Paraiso brand director Tahmina Ghaffer, Shoja’s niece. “We don’t want to talk too much about Emilie’s. We don’t want to stir up this whole group or all that negativity.”
Paraiso. 1101 Pennsylvania Ave., SE.