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The Early Word on Mike Isabella's White Hot Bandolero

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R. Lopez

Mike Isabella opened Bandolero out in Georgetown just one week ago and, naturally, it hasn't taken long for the crowds to clang through its cemetery gates. Though perhaps a little more low-key than the Graffiato opening last year, the former Top Chef contestant still drummed up some considerable buzz before opening the Mexican small plates restaurant — with the help of two pop-up previews, of course. But now that Bandolero is 100 percent open in its permanent location, it's time to take a look at what the early diners are saying.

The Not Bad News: An Eater commenter who visited on opening night has some criticism, but remains open-minded: "I ate there yesterday - not bad for opening night. The on tap margarita was great (and super strong!). But the decor is really awful - it's so loud and they took a beautiful space (Hook) and sort of destroyed it. I hope they will rethink some of the decor. The food was okay - I had done the LivingSocial pop up and honestly didn't see much from that menu on the current one. The biggest issue was the food was not hot at all but I would three out five dishes were pretty good. Let's see how it goes!" [Eater Comments]

The Rave: Another Eater commenter has no reservations about Mike Isabella's new spot: "Had an incredible meal there tonight. Food, service, environment - everything was spot on. One of the single best food experiences I've had in this city to date. Go soon, go often - and order the duck confit!" [Eater Comments]

The Celebrity Restroom News: There is nothing at all awkward about this section of a Yelp review: "'Celebrity' Sightings--what could be more entertaining than having your boyfriend saunter coolly back to the bar only to tell you he just walked in on Mike Isabella in the bathroom (Bandolero does it one man to a bathroom)? Classic." [Yelp]

The Good Taco News: While noting that Mike Isabella has pulled ahead "[i]n the race to be the Top Chef: All-Star of Washington, D.C.," HuffPo has praise for Bandolero's tacos: "Pick a few tacos from the extensive menu -- it's less 'chicken or beef?' and more 'octopus or suckling pig?' (although barbecue chicken and skirt steak both make the list). Mahi mahi tacos ("fish stick tacos, we call them") are crunchy yet light, served with a red cabbage slaw and creamy tomato escabeche. The charred asparagus tacos bring the fresh flavor of the farmer's market to the table, sprinkled with spinach leaves and sweet beet salsa. [HuffPo]

The Great Queso News: The Washington Post renders a verdict on the queso fundido, which is maybe the new pepperoni sauce: "Often thought of as a starter, merely a cheesy bath in which to dunk tortilla chips while downing Dos Equis, Isabella’s queso fundido appears among Bandolero’s main courses, and for good reason. Served in a square glass bowl, a warm base of creamy, melted manchego is topped with tender ribbons of duck confit, savory maitake mushrooms and a sunny-side up egg, yolk cooked to just shy of firmness. At $14, it’s served with a large soup spoon, and when blended together into one unctuous spread and layered atop the soft flour tortillas it’s served with, it’s like folding the most velvety of fajitas. After sampling more than half a dozen small plates, tacos and tostadas from the Georgetown restaurant ... the queso fundido is the one I’m still thinking about." [WaPo]

The Yelp Slam News: A Yelper weighs in with a slam, but also kind of good news, too: "We had barely begun eating the queso when our main course arrived staggered, as with the first course. We had the octopus and the lobster tacos. The octopus was overly acidic and still tough to chew, the chefs should have spent more time tenderizing the meat. The corn tortillas were almost as bad as the flour tortillas that came with our queso. We left them mostly uneaten and the lobster tacos were only slightly better. The manager noticed the uneaten tacos and appeared concerned, and then took them off the bill without us asking." [Yelp]

The Friendly Competitor News: Bourbon Steak chef Adam Sobel offered support to his new neighbors and competitors via Twitter, writing: "congrats guys and well done ! The food was straight bangin tonight" [Twitter]

The Good Margarita News: Several local media types reported on the state of the Bandolero margarita from the restaurant's opening party earlier this week, including former Food Network Star contestant Mary Beth Albright, who described it as "[n]ot my grandma's margarita" and Washingtonian fashion editor Kate Bennett warned Twitter to "Beware the margaritas. In a good way. But, still." [Twitter]


3241 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007