A Oaxacan-Inspired Taqueria Is Taking Over the Las Gemelas Space

Apapacho is bringing homemade tortillas, fish quesadillas, and Mexican pastries to La Cosecha.

Apapacho will serve its tacos on freshly made tortillas. Photograph courtesy of the restaurant.

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Oaxaca-born Alam Mendez was the executive chef at Maiz 64. Photograph courtesy of Apapacho.

Apapacho (inside La Cosecha), 1280 Fourth St., NE. 

Chef Alam Mendez’s life has always been devoted to food. To get to his bedroom as a kid, he had to walk through the dining room and kitchen of his parents’ restaurant, Las Quince Letras, in Oaxaca. His first job was working at the traditional Oaxacan eatery. 

Las Quince Letras has become an institution—this year, it was recognized by the Michelin Guide—and now Mendez’s childhood bedroom is a walk-in fridge.

Mendez has since worked in kitchens all over the world, including Arzak in San Sebastian, and the celebrated Hija de Sanchez in Copenhagen. In 2019, he came to Alexandria to serve as executive chef at Urbano 116 in Old Town, before the restaurant’s owners decided to pivot to a more Americanized menu during the pandemic. He then opened Maiz 64 on 14th Street (it closed earlier this year).

Elisa Reyna will make traditional Mexican desserts and pastries at Apapacho. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Now, Mendez and wife Elisa Reyna will open Apapacho, taking over the taqueria-sized vacancy left by Las Gemelas—the first restaurant Joe Biden visited as president—in the La Cosecha food hall at Union Market. There, Mendez plans to carve al pastor slices from a rotating trompo and grill carne asada. His kitchen will slow-cook traditional Oaxacan lamb barbacoa with avocado leaves, and make corn and flour tortillas from scratch. 

“I grew up with these flavors,” Mendez says, “and so to me, cooking with these flavors makes me feel that I’m at home.”

Reyna, who met Mendez at the Instituto Culinario de Mexico, also worked as the head pastry chef at Maiz 64, and Apapacho will be their first project together. She’ll prepare classic Mexican desserts like arroz con leche. In the morning, you’ll find Reyna’s pan dulce, like conchas (crunchy-topped sweet buns), along with cafe de olla.  They will also serve breakfast tacos, something Mendez has come to appreciate only after living in the US. 

Conchas at Apapacho. Photograph courtesy of the restaurant.

Later in the day, tacos will come with fillings like carnitas, Mexico City-style suadero, octopus, mussels, mushrooms, and seasonal vegetables. Mendez will fry up fish quesadillas (“pescadillas”) and likely serve some tortas. Drinks like micheladas and frozen mezcalitas are on the way, too. 

“We’re going to try to make people feel that they’re stopping at a street vendor in Mexico and having a fun, quick lunch,” Mendez says. The couple are aiming for a July 20 opening, but it could come even sooner. 

Ike Allen
Assistant Editor