The 14th Street NW space that housed the short-lived Meatball Shop welcomes another New York City import today with the official opening of Mexicue, a food truck success story thats sells mash-ups of Mexican dishes and food from the American South.
That means tacos come stuffed with Nashville hot chicken, and a version of nachos is topped with tuna ceviche. “Quessaritos” — hybrids of quesadillas and burritos that’s are are really big, flour tortilla tacos lined with melted cheese and rice — arrive full of andouille sausage jambalaya or chili. The meat at the center of the pulled pork tacos, an original food truck item, is braised and dressed with smoked salt before being mixed with crispy tortilla strips and a buttermilk chipotle sauce.
“We were pretty intentionally not authentic about it,” says Thomas Kelly, who founded the first food truck in 2010. “Let’s take the things we love about both of these things and mash them up.”
The overhauled restaurant at 1720 14th Street NW represents the sixth location for Mexicue, and the first outside of the greater NYC area. Kelly says the menu will stick to the core of what the brand sells at its other sites, with a few specials and tweaks for D.C.
For example, there’s an off-menu Maryland crab tostada ($7.50) that comes on a base of guacamole with herb slaw, pickled red onions, salsa verde, and cilantro. A salsa roja gets made with roasted poblanos and habaneros.
Kelly says another trait unique to the D.C. location is a bar beefed up with a variety of agave spirits, which acknowledges the growing popularity of tequila, mezcal, raicilla, and sotol in town. His enthusiasm becomes infectious when he sticks out an open bottle of pechuga mezcal, talking about how the fruitiness is evident in the scent, or espouses the merits of mole bitters that go into a smoky margarita.
“They’re unbelievable,” he says. “Wait ‘til you smell them. You’ll be like, ‘Why has this not been in my life before?’”
Kelly is a self-taught chef who spent years working in New York kitchens as an extern when he’d finish his work in corporate marketing. He says he spent time at Tom Colicchio’s Craft and Marco Canora’s Hearth.
“It was probably five years of just walking into kitchens after my day job, getting exposure,” he says, adding that he spent a lot of time working pastry, because that’s where he could cause the least amount of trouble on a busy night.
The owner says he chose to bring Mexicue to D.C. because he’s enjoyed spending time there over the years and sees the dining culture as similar to New York. The Logan Circle location felt like a fit because the diverse crowd he saw parading up and down the strip looked the same as the people who used to line up for the Mexicue truck.
After inheriting the Meatball Shop space, Kelly wanted the Mexicue renovation to feel different from the other locations. He’s painted the ceilings a vibrant cactus green, colored the air ducts a light pink, and lowered the bar to feel more communal. New shelves holding liquor bottles sport distressed wood, and Kelly lent a personal touch by spray painting the spherical light fixtures hanging from the bar. An amateur photographer, he’s also responsible for the prints of citrus fruits and chiles hanging throughout the restaurant.
Mexicue is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Happy Hour is 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday; Website