Homegrown Tex-Mex chain Guapo’s is doing things differently at its ninth family-owned restaurant, with plans to showcase Colombian cuisine at the soon-to-open location on the Georgetown waterfront.
Recently hired chefs are unveiling new dishes at the upcoming Guapo’s (3050 K Street NW) ahead of a plan to open a Latin American restaurant next year under the Guapo’s umbrella; the search is under way for a space in D.C. For now the immediate focus is on opening Guapo’s on Monday, August 20 in Georgetown — a dream location for late founder Hector Rincón, a Colombian native who opened the first Guapo’s nearly 30 years ago in Tenleytown.
“The cuisine in Colombia is great but hasn’t been discovered. We want to explore that and bring that to D.C.,” says Jorge Figueredo, director of operations of Guapo’s Restaurants, who’s spearheading the Georgetown project. “Eventually it will help us grow and get us to the next level with a Latin American restaurant.”
“Amaranth” — a crunchy protein-packed ancient grain cultivated by Aztecs during the pre-Colombian period — makes its way into a new salad, accompanied by roasted vegetables, mixed greens, and honey-sesame dressing. For the first time, tortas — including shrimp and veggie varieties — will enter the mix at Guapo’s.
Guapo’s recently recruited fresh meat to shake up the kitchen: co-executive chefs Nathan Breedlove — an alum of José Andrés’ Thinkfoodgroup family of restaurants as well as 14th Street destination Le Diplomate — and Sergio Galindo, who’s studied Latin American cuisine and cooked in New York under Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The latest hire is Mexican pastry chef Elissa Reyna, who has a flourless chocolate cake in the works for Georgetown.
“We are bringing in young blood. I wanted people who are hungry, want to grow in a company, and show off what they can do,” says Figueredo.
Locals are also in on the new project. Neighborhood purveyor Grace Street Coffee is handling the java program, and Georgetown architect Ernesto Santalla is completely transforming the space from its former life as nautically-inspired bar Orange Anchor. Interior construction is expected to wrap up the first week of August, and a patio is slated to open in September.
Booze is a big focal point, and the renovation included moving the bar to the center of the dining room.
“Everything surrounds the bar, so the program is going to be big for us,” says Figueredo.
Along with importing the chain’s destination margaritas and Palomas, there’s a new Amigo Magueyero cocktail (made with bat-friendly mezcal Siembra Metl Mateo Cupreata, Ancho Reyes liquor, Aperol, and vermouth) and a Mexican-style riff on a gin and tonic.
There’s also an on-site tortilla press that’ll be used to make bedding for tacos. New varieties include tacos de cochinita (Yucatan-style pit barbeque pork), tacos de lengua (beef tongue, ancho chile, annatto, pickled onions, and cilantro), and tacos de hongos (mushrooms, macha, lime, epazote, and lime). Classic entrees like carne asada and sizzling steak fajitas will also join the lineup. Dishes range from $8 to $30, and tacos are three for $10.
The restaurant plans to offer lunch, dinner, happy hour, late-night dining, and boozy brunch with items like chilaquiles.
Over the past six months, Fairfax’s Guapo’s has been ground zero for testing out debut dishes and plating techniques for the Georgetown location. A ceviche bar currently planted in the center of the Fairfax restaurant churns out 400 ceviche orders a week.
“Before the [ceviche bar] we would sell 400 in a year,” says Figueredo.
While Georgetown’s Guapo’s is too small to house a physical ceviche bar (it’s about half the size of typical Guapo’s restaurants), raw fish will also be a big part of its menu.
“We aren’t messing with the fact it’s Tex Mex but we are bringing Latin American dishes,” says Figueredo. “It’s a new chapter for us. Hopefully the D.C. scene will welcome it.”
There’s already evidence of customers hungry for a new spin on Tex-Mex fare. This year, Guapo’s teased out items at a Cinco de Mayo celebration for Georgetown residents and industry guests. There were 150 RSVPs — and 400 people showed up.
“We hope [Georgetown] will bring that change Guapo’s needs to stay current and broaden our scope of not only being family friendly but also where millennials want to go,” says Figueredo.