A residential strip in Truxton Circle just got a dose of cool Texan culture with the arrival of an airy cactus-covered cafe called Republic Cantina.
Owner and Houston native Chris Svetlik, co-founder of D.C. pop-up Republic Kolache, teamed up with partner Sam Lipnick for his first brick-and-mortar restaurant (43 N Street NW). In addition to serving the rotating kolaches (Texas’s favorite pastry) that have appeared at Hill Country, American Ice Company, Reliable Tavern in recent years, the brick-lined eatery nearly nearly two years in the making brings breakfast tacos; traditional breakfast pastries, and coffee from Northeast roaster Small Planes to the neighborhood.
Out of the gate, the counter-service menu stars a short lineup of tacos filled with house brisket, bacon, or potatoes and eggs ($3-$4). Fluffy flour tortillas are made from scratch, with corn tortillas available on request.
Svetlik says his “diehard” Republic Kolache customers — many of whom are Texans too — got a first taste last Saturday via an email invite. Some 500 tacos were sold in five hours, he notes.
“Hopefully that is a taste of things to come,” he says.
Current operating hours are 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends (and on the Fourth of July). A grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, July 6.
Once its full-service dinner program joins the mix later this summer, hours will extend to 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.
“We opened with cafe hours to get the ball rolling and get a presence in the neighborhood,” says Svetlik.
Here’s a first look at the opening menu:
Svetlik, a designer by trade, collaborated with his brother to craft the modern menu boards and wooden landscape-themed partitions between brown leather-lined booths.
Other vintage photographs offer a D.C. connection. There’s a seven-foot-tall cowboy circus performer towering over a notable Texan politico on the steps of the U.S. Captiol.
Republic Cantina’s constituency of local Republic Kolache fans also helped add authentic touches to the space. During its buildout the team posted a successful call to action on its Facebook page, asking anyone who was driving from Texas to D.C. to bring scene-setting, 7-foot-tall cacti, taxidermy, antlers, and other nostalgia along for the ride. Shaw’s plant and flower studio Rewild also supplied spiky green decor.
Accordion-style doors open onto a side patio with seating for 10 in the alley next to the eatery. The interior fits 50 patrons and 20 more on its leafy lounge out front. Umbrellas will soon provide shade from the summer sun.
Some Texan trinkets imported inside most recently lived inside Svetlik’s house, which sits a few blocks away. While Truxton Circle is relatively close to city center, he thinks the residential-heavy area is still “underserved” when it comes to dining options and Wi-Fi enabled hangouts for remote workers.
Customers can also pass the time by grabbing a book from shelves he also made, with hardcover reads on American design (think Taschen’s The Copy Book). Underneath, there’s games for kids within reach. Parents will also get a break once dinner starts via coloring menus.
Along with its current core taco orders, drinks also get Tex-Mex twists. Lattes can get a sugar-and-spice upgrade via a “Mexican Mocha” with chocolate, chipotle, and ancho chili. On-trend oat milk can also be subbed in for $1 extra. Horchata, a popular Mexican drink across the Southwestern U.S., is made on-site with raw agave syrup. At Republic Cantina, the sweet elixir makes its way into an iced latte.
Latin-inspired licuados made daily mix fresh fruit like cantaloupe, milk, and ice. Frozen drink machines will also be used for margaritas once alcohol joins the mix.
“We want to have a serious cocktail program here,” says partner Lipnick, adding the bar will largely rely on agave spirits as a base for drinks.
There’s four tap lines, one of which will be reserved for cold brew and the others for beers. Along with pouring local players, Svetlik says he’s working on sourcing “esoteric” beers born in Texas.
“I’ve been on a multi-year quest to get Lone Star here. It’s surprisingly hard,” he says, of getting the ubiquitous Texan brew into D.C. “When you grow up with something it symbolizes home for you.”
Once alcohol starts flowing, its lineup of offbeat caffeinated concoctions will likely get boozy tweaks to accommodate D.C.’s growing obsession for iced coffee cocktails.
“We are all about offering high-quality espresso drinks into the night,” he says.
Chef Antonio Burrell (Agua 301, El Centro DF) is expected to bring sizzling fajitas, combo platters, queso, and enchiladas to the table once dinner service goes live in a few weeks.
The Tex-Mex newcomer will soon be joined by a Mexican mainstay a few blocks away, with the pending revival of Bloomingdale’s El Camino. Eater reached out to its new owner for an updated time line.