Metropolitan Hospitality Group, which runs the local Circa chain and other casual bistros, is scheduled to open its debut Mexican restaurant (99 M St SE) today at 4 p.m.
The bar will start out with 50 tequila and mezcal options. Pours start at $8 and surge to $59 for a rare taste of Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Añejo.
Some of the nine festive cocktails ($9-$14) integrate billowing dry ice, like the Los Muertos (espresso-infused El Silencio mezcal, Averna amaro, crème de cacao, Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao, Angostura bitters).
Beers swing from domestic (Miller Lite, DC Brau) to Mexican (Tecate, Bohemia). The bar also serves an exclusive Tropic Thunder IPA from Atlas Brew Works, now available at all Circa locations.
Él Bebe’s food menu is top-heavy with starters to encourage quick turnover. Salads, mini empanadas, and ceviche are joined by lots of dips, nachos, and 11 options for a la carte tacos. Loayza, who’s from Peru, pulled from familiar flavors from Latin and Central America and Spain.
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“We didn’t want to cater to a certain demographic,” says Vincent Spinoso, MHG’s chief operating officer, adding, “We considered everyone’s opinion. I ask the kitchen and food runners what they enjoy and what they don’t.”
Tamales featuring beer-braised carnitas go the unconventional route, served open faced without the corn husk involved. Tacos aim to feed a range of taste buds and diets, with mushrooms and cauliflower varieties joined by chorizo, pork belly, and marinated short rib orders for carnivores.
Spinoso, who oversees all culinary operations across the growing 500-person restaurant group, frequently switches up its menus to stay relevant and accommodate feedback. During Circa’s first few weeks of service next door, he reports the seared scallops with butternut squash purée is the top seller.
“You have to change, adapt and grow or end up dying,” says Spinoso, who helped open Great American Restaurants’ Ozzie’s and Jackson’s before joining MHG six years ago.
MHG’s latest laid-back venture doesn’t take reservations. Every seat qualifies for happy hour (4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays), which includes $2 chips and salsa, $4 Tecates and Coronas, and four flavors of $6 frozen margaritas.
When lunch joins the mix in March, happy hour will begin at 2 p.m. For now, an “anytime, anywhere” order of a 16-ounce can of Tecate with shot of Sauza Blue Reposado is $9 all day.
A portion of proceeds from El Bebe’s short list of inaugural desserts — passion fruit flan, fried pastries, and tres leches sponge cake — will be donated to DC Central Kitchen.
Design group Gensler created an airy Mexican-themed dining area with flickering cathedral-style lighting fixtures, towering mirrors lined with succulents, jalapeno-hued booths, and a huge roll-up garage window to let breeze blow through the 3,600-square-foot restaurant. The 75-seat interior will be joined by a 15-seat al fresco addition come spring.