Three months after nixing plans to open a contemporary Mexican restaurant inside the La Cosecha market in Northeast, chef Christian Irabién announced today he’s opened a Latin pop-up across town that will help provide relief funds to immigrants during the coronavirus pandemic.
Located in upper Northwest, Muchas Gracias sells prepared food and a rotating menu full of family-sized taco kits, sides of beans and rice, and tres leches cake for takeout and delivery.
A family-style taco platter for two to three ($55) includes corn tortillas made on-site and choice of proteins like Guadalajara-style braised short rib birria with dark red mole broth, skirt steak fajitas, chicken tinga verde, or crimini mushroom and Arizona baby cactus. There’s also platters for parties of one, complete with all the taco trimmings. He compares the one-stop shop order of meats and accoutrements to “that KFC bucket meal concept.”
Along with chips, salsas, guac, and refreshing sides like “carrots and cukes” (cold cucumbers, farm carrots, lime, Tajin, sea salt), the menu includes a kale Caesar salad and pickled jalapenos from D.C.’s Gordy’s.
“Our main goal here to to be less chef driven and be more love and food driven,” Irabién says. “Everything on the menu is stuff you want to have at home to make you feel good and warm through uncertain times — it feels like a stomach hug.”
Pints or quarts of “masa” ball soup is an ode to noted Jewish chef and cookbook author Joan Nathan, a neighbor and friend of Irabién and the owners of Buck’s and Comet.
“It’s something warm and friendly — a little playful take on Mexican food,” he says.
He takes masa and adds butter, cilantro, and salt to make the balls, comparing them to gnocchi.
Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 4 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., with delivery via Caviar and Doordash, as well as pickup and takeout (202-244-5000) or online ordering.
The plan was to plant a casual neighborhood place in the space — formerly Besta Pizza — with partners from Buck’s Fishing & Camping and Comet Ping Pong, which sit on the same strip. It was called Buckaroo’s.
“We were working hard, making something beautiful with the space, and then the world caught on fire and we put everything on hold,” Irabién says.
The chef says Muchas Gracias is a big “thank you” note to the regional cuisines and immigrants from Latin America. The pop-up will deliver free meals and farm-direct pantry boxes to families in need. A portion of sales will be donated to Tables Without Borders, which helps refugee immigrant chefs find jobs, and Friends and Family Meal, which connects groceries to those in need. A market will soon be rolled out to stock customers’ home with CSA boxes, supporting farmers by selling their cabbage, mushrooms, potatoes, and more.
“We started seeing a big need from the neighborhood asking for food — there’s not really that much out here,” he says. “We also wanted to support people who support us — 80 percent of the kitchen community in D.C. is made up of immigrants who don’t have a lot of resources.”
Irabién hails from Chihuahua, Mexico, and grew up working in his grandfather’s Mexican restaurant in El Paso. He worked at José Andrés Oyamel before decamping D.C. in 2015 to help open a stylish Mexican restaurant in Oakland called Calavera.