When veteran restaurateurs John Fulchino and Ann Cashion announced they were closing their Adams Morgan seafood institution Johnny’s Half Shell last fall, it was mourned as one of the biggest pandemic-era dining losses. “The Half Shell,” as regulars knew it, survived over two decades in Washington. It had morphed from a buzzy Dupont dining room to a politico pitstop on Capitol Hill before finding a final resting space at 1819 Columbia Road, Northwest—the same building where Cashion once ran her other famed Washington spot, Cashion’s Eat Place.
Even more than the loss of Johnny’s crabcakes, regulars fretted that Cashion and Fulchino—best friends and business partners who’ve opened nearly a dozen restaurants over three decades—would leave the neighborhood, at least when it came to restaurants (Fulchino’s lived on the block for 30-plus years). But they struck a deal with their longtime landlord for a casual Mexican concept that’s in tandem with their other venture, Taqueria Nacional, in Mount Pleasant (a Logan Circle location closed in December). The new full-service restaurant, Los Compañeros—“the companions”—opens mid-October.
Fulchino says he and Cashion brainstormed restaurant concepts after operating Johnny’s became untenable during the pandemic. Because of the expense and perishability of seafood, not to mention supply chain disruptions, Fulchino says: “I called it a nonprofit organization—it was great for he public, but hard for Annie and I.” They landed on a style that was better suited to takeout, more approachable for young diners, and a cuisine that Cashion—the southern daughter of native Texans—has been cooking in one form or the other since opening the original Austin Grill in Glover Park in 1988, where the two met.
“Here we are, we’re both 104, we’re not going to leave the industry,” Fulchino says(he and Cashion are actually 62 and 67, respectively). “What can we do that’s going to work? Something fun, lively, affordable.”
Cashion’s menu at Los Compañeros will be more traditionally Mexican than Tex-Mex, though diners will find a few nods to the Austin Grill days—as well as Cashion’s, Johnny’s, and of course Taqueria Nacional, whose neon signs all line the wall. “In the spirit of the food there’s a connection,” says Cashion.
Diners can start with homemade salsa, guacamole, and a queso dip that Cashion’s been tweaking for decades. Street-style tacos are similar to those at Nacional, and come stuffed with fillings like carnitas or fish (there’s also a green-chili/egg taco by request). Other classics include ancho chile enchiladas, gulf shrimp quesadillas, Yucatan-style grilled chicken, and veggie-studded rice and beans. A crab cake Veracruz and gumbo-like seafood stew may placate the Johnny’s fans, but Cashion isn’t looking for comparisons—Los Compañeros is designed to be casual with a small, nimble menu that’ll allow room for specials (keep an eye out for Cashion’s chili this fall, topped with cheese, onions, and homemade crema).
The duo made some changes to the interior and patio, brightening up the space and adding more outdoor seats (the same garage windows pull up in front for an airy feel on nice days). Drinkers can head to the elevated bar for a collection of tequilas, mezcals, cocktails, and Fulchino’s margaritas with fresh-squeezed juices—the same recipe he mixed at Austin Grill. That’s the fun thing about eating at a Fulchino-Cashion venture: there’s always a story.
“My margarita recipe is the one I made for Rob [Wilder] in 1988—it’s a kickass margarita,” says Fulchino.
Wilder—the restaurateur who opened the Glover Park Austin Grill—joined up with Cashion and Fulchino to open Spanish restaurant Jaleo in Penn Quarter in 1993. Though Cashion headed the kitchen, she and Wilder were eager to find a Spanish chef. Soon, she discovered a young, charismatic Spaniard in San Diego by the name of José Andrés. He flew to DC, and wowed the Jaleo team with his tapas in a cooking trial that unfolded in Cashion’s apartment kitchen. Two years later, Cashion and Fulchino officially joined forces and moved on to open Cashion’s Eat Place, while Andrés eventually partnered with Wilder to found ThinkFoodGroup. The rest is Washington restaurant history.
Los Compañeros will be the Cashion and Fulchino’s eleventh restaurant opening together, and while both are nervous about what the future holds—will diners come out, will dining rooms shut down?—Fulchino is optimistic.
“The virus made us think about what’s important. We won’t be around forever,” he says. “I think about legacy, and I think about my staff. The kitchen staff has been with us for 21 years. I want to make it work for them.” And while Cashion may not be aiming for the finer dining style she once served to Presidents and Gourmet writers, it’s still her cooking.
“The food, it’s very Ann Cashion,” Fulchino says. “Restrained and fantastic.”
Los Compañeros. 1819 Columbia Road, NW.