The staff of Petworth comfort restaurant Homestead shrunk to about a quarter of its original size due to the pandemic. With so few hands, simple things like baking biscuits twice a day or refilling bottomless mimosas were hard to sustain, and service became limited to the first floor and parklet. “We lost almost 85 percent of our revenue in 2020. When you’re down that far, you really have to dig deep,” owner Nic Makris says.
Makris started to think about giving the space a fresh start with a new concept that would be affordable and approachable to neighbors, while also helping the business thrive again as Covid restrictions eased. The result: Commonwealth Cantina, a Tex-Mex joint that’s been ramping up over the past few weeks with burritos, tacos, spicy margaritas, and many of the same brunch staples regulars already know and love.
“I’ve always wanted to own a Tex-Mex restaurant, but I didn’t anticipate going into 2021 that that was going to be in my cards,” Makris admits. The restaurateur, who’s also a partner in Adams Morgan bar the Blaguard, has devoted much of his life to building up the Petworth restaurant, beginning with selecting the location back in 2012. Letting go to Homestead hasn’t been easy: “I never wanted to put eight years of my life into something and then have to start it over. But it seems starting over was going to present me with a greater opportunity to rebuild.”
The reimagined restaurant and bar features plenty of Tex-Mex classics—quesadillas, fajitas, nachos— alongside a handful of burgers. Among the highlights: a carne asada-and-fries-stuffed “burrito saltado,” a play on Peruvian lomo saltado, as well as trendy birria tacos. The menu, with QR code ordering, also includes a number of vegetarian options, from cauliflower tacos to mushroom burritos to a chopped taco salad. For dessert, look for churros and apple pie tacos.
“Every time I want to go out for dinner, I’m looking for fajitas and margaritas. It’s a give the people what they want kind of thing from my perspective,” says Makris. He confesses his last pre-pandemic meal and first post-vaccination meal were both at Guapo’s.
Margaritas on the rocks are available in several different styles—”skinny,” smoky, and spicy—while frozen versions come in lime, strawberry, or swirl (with the option for pitchers). Other cocktails include a mezcal old-fashioned, red sangria, paloma, and orange crush.
The restaurant isn’t changing everything; Its brunch has always been popular, and many of those staples are sticking around. Old favorites like challah French toast and fried chicken and biscuits join new dishes such as a fajita omelet and brunch burrito. Instead of the usual bottomless mimosas, Commonwealth Cantina is offering “mimosa kits” ($25) with a bottle of sparkling wine alongside a carafe of orange or grapefruit juice for mix-your-own drinks.
Meanwhile, the restaurant’s farmhouse look has taken on a more colorful persona. “I have a pink accent wall and yellow and all kinds of wild colors,” Makris says. “Usually designers say to only use two colors, but I decided I would use more.”
The brighter vibe comes with a brighter outlook from Makris. In the past year, he lost his father-in-law Iraj Askarinam, a 40-year restaurant veteran who previously owned Spaghetti Garden in Adams Morgan, to Covid-19. And on top of financial struggle, his business suffered multiple burglaries.
“Honestly, I lost some faith in humanity. I didn’t know if anybody cared about anything at all anymore,” Makris says. “But it’s been really rewarding for me, my employees that people are coming back after a year and a half.”
Commonwealth Cantina. 3911 Georgia Ave., NW.