Food

Mexican and Mezcal Destination Espita Is Closing

A new restaurant from the same owners is coming to the same Shaw space soon.

Espita Mezcaleria in Shaw. Photograph by Under A Bushel Photography.

August has already been a rough month for restaurants and food businesses with closure announcements from Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Union Market, Newland in Capitol Hill, Magpie and the Tiger in Petworth, and pickle purveyor Number 1 Sons. One more for the list: Mexican and mezcal destination Espita in Shaw, which will have its last service on Saturday, August 13 after six years in business. The one bright note here is that the owners plan to open a new, freshly renovated restaurant in the same space on August 27. Ghostburger, which prepared smash burgers and cheesesteaks in Espita’s kitchen, will continue operating for takeout.

“It’s pretty similar to every story you’ve heard, honestly,” co-owner Josh Phillips explains of the closure. “Costs are going up, and revenues aren’t going up with it. So eventually, that line crosses the other. You start to look at the future, and you’re like, ‘This probably is not going to last forever.’ So might as well change it now while we still can.”

Phillips found there was an “emotional ceiling” to what diners were willing to pay for most Mexican food—particularly tacos—even though it’s labor-intensive and expensive to make tortillas, salsa, and braises from scratch. Those costs have only risen: Since the pandemic, he says the average wage of cooks has gone up $4 an hour—not a bad thing because “wages need to go up,” Phillips says—while ingredient costs have skyrocketed with supply chain issues and inflation.

Phillips isn’t revealing just yet what will replace Espita, but spoiler alert, it’s not Mexican. “It’s going to be very us, is all I’m going to say… It’s going to fill a hole that Shaw needs right now,” he says.

And if you are still craving Espita’s style of modern Mexican food and mezcal cocktails, you can find them at sister restaurants Destino and Taqueria Las Gemelas in the La Cosecha food hall.

“It’s always sad to close your first restaurant,” Phillips says. But at least, he says, Destino provides the same creative outlet: “It’s kind of everything we always wanted Espita to be.”

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.