Food

The Dream of a Taco Bell Cantina in DC Will Have to Wait—Again

When is the Columbia Heights location EVER going to open?

Taco Bell Cantina's long-awaited Columbia Heights location. Photograph by Daniella Byck.

Surely it would be one of the spring’s biggest restaurant openings. Taco Bell Cantina was coming to Columbia Heights, and the Twitter buzz was huge. Though the Mexican chain has other outposts around DC, this was the first Cantina, meaning you could get a boozy Baja Blast along with your Doritos Locos Tacos.

But when a team of Washingtonian reporters showed up at 11 AM—the reported opening time—there was nary a Chalupa lover in sight. Shortly after, someone else arrived at the scene. Turns out she was a reporter for DCist. Slowly, though, the Taco Bell faithful rolled up.

“It feels like a good close to the pandemic. Everything’s getting better, and now there’s a Taco Bell opening. It’s just the perfect combination,” says Michael Lembo, one of the first people in line who was not a journalist.

Brendan Kownacki joked he had been planning to camp out even though he lives only a block away. “I thought maybe there would be a ribbon cutting, a crowd of people. But nothing. Nothing. It’s a little bit disappointing.” 

A sign at the door read, “DINE-IN OPEN. COME ON IN.” But the doors remained locked.  Around 11:10 AM, an employee came out to say the location would not be opening until 5 PM.   The place was initially supposed to open last spring, then in late April of this year. Great, another delay.

Harold Treminio drove up from Virginia, stopping in Foggy Bottom to catch an Uber with friend David Quintero. The duo claim they woke up extra early for the taco premiere—9 AM to be exact. Despite the opening snafu, Treminio and Quintero still plan to live más today.

“We came up to have a little darty [day party] morning happy hour, so I think we’re going to get that done anyways,” says Treminio, stepping into the neighboring Chik-fil-A.

Meanwhile, Kownacki was planning to come back at 5. “Now I’m on a mission,” he says. 

But as most of the crowd departed sans Cheesy Gordita Crunches, an employee emerged again. The opening would be delayed until tomorrow at “lunchtime.” You know,  “2 PM.”

Sean Grossnickle, who lives nearby, said he looks forward to taking “a break from the laptop, and grabbing a taco and a slushie.” Asked whether he was disappointed about yet another delay in the opening, he said, “at this point a couple more days won’t matter.” 

“We trust the process,” said Benji Satloff, who accompanied him to the non-opening.

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.

Daniella Byck
Assistant Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in August 2018. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studied journalism and digital culture.

Damare Baker
Assistant Editor

Before becoming an assistant editor, Damare Baker started out as an editorial fellow for Washingtonian. She has previously written for Voice of America and The Hill. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she studied international relations, Korean, and journalism.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.

Politics and Culture Editor

A DC native, Rob Brunner moved back to the city in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He has also written for the New York Times Magazine, New York, and Rolling Stone, among others. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.