First-time restaurateur Dario Arana-Rojas is paying homage to his Colombian heritage with Maizal, a build-your-own arepa restaurant tentatively scheduled to debut at the L’Enfant Plaza food court on Wednesday, March 14.
Rather than zero in on a specific style of the cherished corn cakes (Colombian versus Venezuelan, fried versus baked), Arana-Rojas is casting a wide net by giving customers the create-your-own option, as well as serving a handful of preset combinations modeled after flavors inspired by Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and others. There will also be custom salads and grain bowls, plus fried yucca, assorted empanadas, a gourmet hot dog featuring pineapple jam, and sweets including churros and dulce de leche-filled cookie sandwiches.
The initial restaurant is sliding into the space formerly occupied by burger chain Red Robin within a food court (429 L’Enfant Plaza SW) that keeps government employees and office workers fed throughout the work week.
Arana-Rojas tells Eater that he and his partner, a seasoned restaurateur who has a hand in Mediterranean-focused chain Mezeh, are currently negotiating a lease to plant a second Maizal inside the forthcoming Ballston Quarter Market food hall — an ambitious new dining hub that’s working to pack 18 restaurants into a few square blocks, including an upgraded version of local chain Ted’s Bulletin. Washington Business Journal reports that D.C. chefs Kevin Tien (Himitsu) and Matt Baker (Gravitas) are considering joining all the action in Ballston as well.
Arana-Rojas says the Maizal in the works at Quarter Market will be between 700 and 800 square feet, and will be located inside the Dining Gallery. And he’s currently scouting additional locations in neighboring Rosslyn and Courthouse that he says could come online within the next year.
“We don’t have any plans to rush our locations. But we do have an aggressive plan for growth,” he tells Eater.
The inaugural Maizal is projected to operate from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, to start. “Once the Spy Museum opens, we’ll become a seven-days-a-week operation,” Arana-Rojas says.