Chop Shop Taco opens today in a converted auto body garage in Alexandria, delivering a compact lineup of elaborate riffs on Mexican food and cocktails.
The new taco spot from chef and co-founder Ed McIntosh sits in Alexandria’s Madison Collective development (1008 Madison Street), blocks from the Pendleton Carryout Co. operation he debuted last fall with the same group.
For the past few years he’s honed his taco chops while running his roving Tortilladora enterprise, working his way up to his first full-scale dining venture with Chop Shop Taco. The team intentionally created a compact food menu to mirror the shop’s size — 47 seats across 1,000 square feet. There are four tacos to start, but no burritos or enchiladas.
McIntosh’s version of guacamole — mixed with serrano pepper ash and pickles — is simply listed as “avocado, smashed.” A handful of sides — like “fried rice” cheese croquettes with huitlacoche, cotija cheese, serrano salsa, and porcini mushrooms — are followed by one dessert, a gluten-free masa tres leches cake that soaks in cream for 48 hours.
Chop Shop Menu 5.1 (1) by on Scribd
The short menu frees up time for the team to put more thought into each dish and drink. For instance, McIntosh hired a masa-making master to produce the tortillas.
Manos de Maiz founder Joahna Hernandez has farm land in Mexico where she creates and grinds her own breeds and strains of red and blue corn. She has plans to make multiple door-to-door deliveries a week from Chop Shop. She’s already had a roving presence in D.C. at various farmer’s markets, but this is her first deal to produce tortillas inside a restaurant; Manos de Maiz already supplies masa to Call Your Mother for its brisket and pastrami tacos.
The tortillas are pressed by hand and cooked on a dedicated flat top.
“It’s fantastic — you can still find the whole corn kernels,” McIntosh says. “It’s a sign of authenticity and love.”
With Hernandez in charge of masa, McIntosh can focus on meaty fillings. Current varieties include brisket braised in beef fat with pasilla chiles and pork shoulder roasted in banana leaves with achiote with and guajillos (two for $8, three for $11).
The minute guests pass its roll-up garage door, they’re greeted by a cashier behind the tile-lined ordering counter. There they’ll catch a glimpse and smell of what’s in store, with a 36-inch vertical spit rotating a daily selection of meats that will end up in tortillas. That could include duck, leg of lamb, and ribeye.
“On busier days and weekends we are thinking of going outside of the box with fun stuff,” McIntosh says, naming whole game hens as an option.
He’s also big on seafood, planning to plant local catches like rock fish on the menu. Snacks ($8-$12) include fried rock shrimp with shrimp paste chile oil and chayote-jicama salad. There’s also tuna with chilled Peruvian mango sauce, cilantro, corn nuts, fresh chile, scallion, lime and radish.
Some of the dishes reflect the team’s diverse cultural backgrounds (McIntosh is Italian-Scottish and co-owner Teddy Kim is Korean). McIntosh is integrating imported burrata into a side dish. A veggie taco’s oyster and maitake mushrooms — traditionally used in Asian cooking — go with pumpkin seeds, mild salsa, scallion, and quick-pickled red cabbage.
“I am not Mexican but I am paying homage to the food I love,” says McIntosh, a CIA grad who’s worked at Great American Restaurants and Hillstone Restaurant Group.
Cocktail director Jon Schott (The People’s Drug) riffs on classic Mexican cocktails. His paloma features Schofferhoffer Grapefruit Radler (instead of grapefruit soda) mixed with El Jimador Reposado and lime juice in a glass rimmed with Himalayan salt.
The tiki-inspired King Louie comes with barrel aged tequila, barrel aged rum, pineapple juice, banana almond orgeat, and a caramel salt rim.
There’s only two beers on draft, and one of which is a Chop Shop Mexican-style Golden Lager made with Founders Brewing Company. McIntosh likens the taco-friendly lager to a Pacifico.
“We have no room to be doing a Churchkey-style bar,” McIntosh says. “We are trying to make it as straightforward as possible.”
Cs Bev Menu Final 4.21 PDF (1) by on Scribd
Tortas served on soft white rolls will join the mix in a few weeks, along with more snacks and a brunch menu featuring a a build-you-own michelada bar with 25 to 30 hot sauces in the mix.
Soups and hearty pozoles will come in when cold weather returns.
“Right now we are going light and fresh,” McIntosh says.