Espita Mezcaleria is getting back into the lunch game with a new casual counter, bringing Shaw a daytime destination for high-end tacos and margaritas.
Starting weekdays on Monday, January 7, the Oaxacan-influenced restaurant will take on the name Espita Lonchería, which translates to “snack bar” in Spanish.
Espita’s midday meal, served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., will feature highlights from chef Robert Aikens’ dinner menu with lower prices ($3-$12). Some new items that will debut at lunch include chorizo tacos and a small plate of fried yuca with pasilla pepper crema.
Other options include small plates such guacamole, escabeche (pickled vegetables), an avocado tostada, endive salad, and wagyu beef crudo.
Here’s a look at the menu:
Espita Loncheria Menu - 12-... by on Scribd
Espita tried lunch on for size during its first year of business in 2016, but owner Josh Phillips says the full-service approach proved to be unpredictable because walk-ins were looking for a quicker option.
“We thought, how can we make it a more fun service, essentially,” he says, adding customers can be in and out in 30 minutes at the counter.
The team didn’t want to debut the counter until the Marriott Courtyard’s construction process down the street was complete, and the sidewalk was usable again.
Espita’s well-traveled team drew inspiration from lunch counters in Mexico and “fast-fancy” restaurants in San Francisco. Guests order at the bar counter (where stools will be removed) and receive a sugar-skull number. The back parts of the dining room and covered patio will be closed off for lunch, but the rest of the restaurant is fair game to pick a seat.
Lunch counters are becoming popular in D.C. This summer, Doi Moi brought back daytime service via chef Johanna Hellrigl’s Bird’s Eye Coffee Bar & Eatery.
Phillips says there’s a lack of quick and quality lunch options for residents, workers, and Convention Center visitors, especially now that Smoked & Stacked has closed.
“That was my go-to,” he says.
This year Phillips was a huge opponent of the controversial Initiative 77 ballot measure to raise the minimum tipped wage, which he said would hurt Espita’s plan to expand with another location. Despite the measure’s failure, he now says Espita is solely focusing on its Shaw location for now.
His latest citywide concern is how the recent partial government shutdown will affect restaurant business, now that many workers lack paychecks — and the disposable income — to go out and eat. Starting Friday, December 28, those with a government ID can get a half-priced margarita or a Mayahuel mezcal variation at Espita.
“They probably need a good cocktail,” Phillips says.