At long last, restaurateur Jackie Greenbaum blasts into DC proper with tonight's opening of her Columbia Heights taqueria El Chucho Cocina Superior. The owner of Silver Spring's beloved Jackie's has been working on the taqueria for years now since she first signed a lease, delayed by an eight-month liquor license process, plus the usual buildout holdups. But now El Chucho is finally bringing a street food-inspired Mexican menu, margaritas on tap and a roof deck to the 11th Street strip, a part of the neighborhood Greenbaum says she liked for its "indie mom-and-pop feel."
Designed by Jackie's chef Diana Davila-Boldin, much of the menu is based on the traditional food that the Oaxaca-trained chef had while growing up in a Mexican family, though Greenbaum says, "She's modified a lot of the recipes to be blindingly amazing." So expect the likes of torta ahogada, otherwise known as a drowned beef sandwich, tacos, plenty of vegetarian-friendly options and food service that reinforces the casual nature of El Chucho, with much of it to be served in baskets or, in the case of the jicama salad, in plastic baggies like their street food inspiration.
In good drinking news, the man behind the excellent bar program at Sidebar, Gordon Banks, is also responsible for what you'll be drinking here. That means horchatas and house-made sodas, like a ginger ale that is ginger lemongrass syrup topped off with soda. When it comes to booze, sodas can be spiked, plus there are specialty cocktails, frozen margaritas and seven specialty margaritas, one of which will be served on tap, for all taste profiles — tart, sweet, spicy.
El Chucho is meant to be a multipurpose kind of space — both casual Mexican restaurant and neighborhood watering hole — and so Greenbaum hired the designer behind 1905's eclectic style to recreate an old-school formica-counter Mexican diner feel with saturated colors restrained by dark wood. There are about 40 seats inside and another 40 on the rooftop deck, which will have sidewalls enclosing it (and the inevitable noise) from the neighbors. The front windows pivot, turning the front counter into one that can seat diners both inside and outside of the restaurant.
El Chucho will normally open at 4 p.m. for dinner service, to remain open until 2 a.m. weekdays and 3 a.m. weekends and eventually add on a weekend brunch. For tonight, though, expect it to open sometime after 4 p.m.