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Neighborhood Spot Espita Mezcaleria Is Working on a New Mexican Restaurant

The Shaw newcomer hopes to get going on the new eatery next year

Espita executive chef Robert Aikens (center) staged at Criollo restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico during a recent research trip to the area.
Photo: Espita Mezcaleria
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Mexican restaurant Espita Mezcaleria, a favorite gathering place for mezcal drinkers in Shaw, intends to add a sibling establishment in the near future.

“We are definitely planning to expand. We have actively been trying to develop new concepts,” Espita general manager Josh Phillips tells Eater. No leases have been locked down just yet, but Phillips says he hopes to have a second D.C. location well under development within the year.

Here’s what Phillips tells Eater about the future south-of-the-border bar/restaurant:

  • It won’t be a replica of Espita, which just turned one this spring. ”I am not interested in making multiples of the same thing. That is not interesting for anyone, including myself.”
  • The TBD restaurant/bar will, however, also focus on southern Mexican fare. But not the Oaxacan flavors that Espita showcases.
  • The chosen region will be dependent on the physical location the Espita team picks: “The building itself has to feel appropriate for the food concept,” he says.
  • The size will be the same, if not bigger, than Espita’s current 130-seat layout.

The team just returned from Oaxaca, Mexico — its third trip there since opening in March 2016 — with a new chef on board. Robert Aikens, Phillips’s brother-in-law, was hired this summer from the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center. “[Rob] is a machine,” says Phillips. “He comes into Espita at 7:30 a.m. and leaves at 11 p.m. six days a week.”

Espita general manager Josh Phillips, Francisco Terrazas from Mezcal Vago, and Espita beverage director Megan Barnes during their recent tour through Mexico.
Photo: Espita Mezcaleria

Phillips compares the team’s Oaxacan travels to buyers attending Fashion Week, in that, as he describes it, it takes some time before the chosen “collections” (or ingredients) hit the U.S.

The El Lechoncito de Oro was the crew’s favorite spot for late-night dining after touring the local mezcalerias.
Photo: Espita Mezcaleria

“We are looking at a preview of what to plan to buy three months from now,” Phillips says.

A highlight of the trip: breakfast in Santiago Matatlan complete with huevos al comal, or eggs cooked on a smooth flat clay griddle traditionally used for tortillas.

“It gives the eggs a savory, almost dirty flavor that is delightful,” says Phillips.

At Criollo, this hoja santa tamal was one of Aiken’s favorite dishes that he learned how to make.
Photo: Espita Mezcaleria

The most memorable mezcal moment was meeting Maestro Mezcalero Rómulo Sanchez in the scenic rolling hills of Candelaria Yegole, Zoquitlan. His mezcal brand Rey Campero, available at Espita, is one of the team’s favorites.

Sanchez’s Jabali is a rare agave varietal that is difficult to distill. “Few mezcaleros have mastered the art of distilling this ‘unicorn’ varietal,” says Phillips.
Photo: Espita Mezcaleria

Espita Mezcaleria

1250 9th Street Northwest, , DC 20001 (202) 621-9695 Visit Website