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A Latin Fast-Casual in Dupont Is Pivoting Into a Taco Shop With ‘Southern Soul’

Panjeros will run as an M Street pop-up from mid-May into July

Tacos from Panjeros
Panjeros is set to open inside Cafe Mia in mid-May
Jeff Diaz/Panjeros

Jeff Diaz, the the owner behind months-old Latin fast-casual Cafe Mia in Dupont, is among the restaurateurs rethinking their businesses to cater to D.C.’s new to-go market while the city gets a handle on the COVID-19 outbreak. Diaz plans to rebranding his space at 1829 M Street NW as Red Hot Chicken — emphasizing the polla a la brasa side of the operation — and add a temporary pop-up for Southern-influenced tacos called Panjeros.

Panjeros is set to open for carryout and delivery during lunch and dinner hours on May 15, the expiration date for D.C.’s dine-in ban. The plan is offer to-go tacos as a pop-up through mid-July. The Mexican menu will include Southern twists, like buttermilk fried chicken tacos or mac n queso bowls, and hush puppies jazzed up with Sriracha guava butter. There will also be loaded yuca fries and tacos stuffed with crisp cauliflower tacos or spicy tempura cod.

“There’s so much flavor in there — it allows us to use so many ingredients with no waste on our end,” Diaz says.

Red Hot Chicken will maintain menu items like its rotisserie chicken and braised beef barbacoa sandwiches while adding more rice bowls and salads to the mix.

“I think it matches better to what we are doing inside here,” he says.

Rotisserie chickens await at the retooled Mia Cafe.
Jeff Diaz/official photo

Some dishes for Panjeros were served at short-lived Bar Lorea off U Street, where Diaz was an opening partner before leaving to get Cafe Mia off the ground. Cafe Mia opened in early February but temporarily closed when D.C. ordered restaurants to shut down on-site dining in mid-March.

“For us it offered time to regroup,” Diaz says. “Being a restaurateur means always pivoting and adapting to changes, readjusting what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong.”

A lot of Diaz’s employees moved over from Bar Lorea. He says they’ll be hired back to run the new venture.

While Cafe Mia undergoes its changes in Dupont, Diaz is also making moves in Adams Morgan. On May 15, he plans to open a pizza shop inside Johnny Pistolas (2333 18th Street NW). He helped open the bar in 2014.

“It’s hard to get a good slice of pizza in that particular neighborhood,” says the Brooklyn native, who apparently is not counting Jumbo Slice.

The working name is Triple J — a reference to the first letters of Diaz’s name and sons of two of Johnny Pistolas’s owners who are helping with the venture.

Triple J will sell 12-inch pies based on a Caputo 00 flour dough that undergoes a 72-hour cold fermentation. A Polish-style, pagash pie will be topped with mashed potatoes and sliced onions.

The plan is to initially operate from Thursdays to Saturdays and serve a late-night crowd until 2:30 a.m.

Diaz reports he got an initial $10,000 SBA grant, and his bank is working on securing a PPP loan that will help put his employees back to work. He’ll hire even more more to handle the multi-part takeout enterprise.

“By offering different concepts, it allows me to give staff more hours,” he says. “A lot are struggling and undocumented, so a lot have gone on to do construction work.”

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