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The Early Word on Pepita, Mike Isabella's Cantina in Ballston

"Guac apparently did not include chips, so we were charged $2 additional for them..."

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R. Lopez

One of the D.C. area's most anticipated restaurants of the summer just opened at the end of July in Ballston. Any restaurant by Top Chef alum Mike Isabella is bound to get local buzz, so Pepita's colorful interior and coastal Mexican cuisine got plenty of attention before service even began.

Now that the doors are open, the cantina has 23 reviews on Yelp with an overall rating of 2.5 stars. Diners have some complaints (along with a few compliments), but there's no mention yet of those boozy push-pops. Read on for the early word on Pepita:

The Awkward Layout News: Diners like the colorful interior but find the layout and small dining area difficult to navigate. Yelper Michele S. writes, "The tables are squished together, and in order to get in & out of the booth, you have to move the tables and your butt is still on the table as you squeeze by." Yelper Lauren A. says the restrooms are so close to the kitchen that they seem like they're a part of it, and Yelper J.W.R agrees. He writes, "The kitchen, bathrooms, bar and door to the outdoor eating area all come together in a matter of feet and that means a substantial a bottleneck." [Yelp]

The Music News: Yelper Lia M. loved the music selection as soon as entered. She writes, "An excellent hip-hop soundtrack was the very first thing to greet my ears." Yelper Peter R. says the restaurant plays "good music," but Twitter user @jwscoop wants to know if they'll ever have hair metal night instead. [Yelp, Twitter]

The Spotty Service News: The restaurant has only been open less than two weeks, so service reviews are all over the place. Yelper Amy I. writes, "Very, very slow service. Too many incompetent staff wondering around without a purpose." Yelper Carolyn M. actually saw diners walk out after waiting too long for wait staff to approach the table, but Yelpers Jason c and Susan S. all say the service is quite good. [Yelp]

The Best Drink of My Life News: Diners seemed satisfied with Pepita's huge drink selection that emphasizes agave spirits, margaritas and frozen drinks. Yelper Susan S. writes, "I had the best frozen drink of my life. It was a banana/caramel/rum type drink and it was strong!" Yelper Lauran A. says, "The drinks are delicious, especially Él Chapo." Twitter user @theMezSays recommends "The Owls Are Not What They Seem" cocktail with tequila, averna and persimmon bitters. [Yelp, Twitter]

The Charging for Chips News: The restaurant's practice of charging for chips was by far the most controversial issue, especially when servers didn't warn customers in advance. Yelper Melissa N. writes, "Where do I begin on what a terrible experience this was. How about paying over $15 for CHIPS AND SALSA - one of which salsas was not even edible!" Yelper Amanda C. writes, "When the check arrives we see that the chips and salsa...were $4.50 for the salsa AND $2 FOR THE CHIPS! Who does that?!" Yelper Colleen F. says chips weren't included with her guacamole order, so the table was charged an extra $2 for them. [Yelp]

The Tuna Ceviche News: Twitter user @davethesave calls the tuna ceviche "fantastic," and Yelper Lia M. calls the dish "fresh." She likes the texture of the tortilla strips but says the coconut puree adds an unappealing touch of sweetness. Yelper Marie M. didn't have any issues with the taste of the coconut sauce but thinks the fish looked unappetizing sitting in a pool of white liquid. [Twitter, Yelp]

The Passable Tacos News: Opinions vary considerably about the tacos. One Facebook user writes on the restaurant's page, "I’m haunted by the supers smoked carnitas tacos" and Yelper t. sa c. says, "The smoked carnita taco with pickled tangy pineapple was right up my alley." Foursquare user David Hall also recommends the Mama's Green Chili Chicken taco, but Yelper Sylie S. tried both the carnitas and the chicken and calls them both "passable" but ultimately "forgettable." [Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp]

The Cold Food News: Speaking of tacos, Yelper Colleen F. says her goat tacos were cold by the time they arrived at the able. Yelper Marisa P. also complains of a cold enchilada, while Yelper Marie M. writes, "The nachos were so disappointing. They were cold by the time we got them." [Yelp]

Pepita Cantina

4000 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22203 (703) 312-0200

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