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A Taco Truck-Turned-Cantina Opens in an Old U Street Sports Bar This Week

Rebel Taco stuffs tortillas with beer-battered cod, smoked brisket, and seared ahi tuna

Rebel Taco will hold off on opening its second-level agave library until pandemic conditions improve.
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

The Rebel Taco food truck will open its first standalone store next week on U Street NW. The two-floor Mexican restaurant won’t be as rowdy as intended because of social distancing protocols put into place during the COVID-19 crisis.

Opening offerings at Rebel Taco Cantina.
Rebel Taco/official photo

Owner Mike Bramson says Rebel Taco will move ahead with opening Wednesday, August 5, inside the building that used to house his shuttered sports bar, the Prospect (1214 U Street NW). Hours are 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. to start.

The taco-centric replacement will focus on takeout and delivery to start. Just 25 patrons at a time will be allowed to dine inside on the first floor. A second-floor tequila tasting bar won’t open just yet. Margaritas will still be available out of the gate, with mango, watermelon, blackberry, hibiscus, spicy, and classic varieties flowing.

Along with its popular cornflake-battered “Shrimp Gone Wild” tacos, brand new additions include the “Catch Me If You Can” (Dos Equis-battered cod, caper-lime tartar sauce, shoestring fries), “The Smoke Show” (smoked brisket, cilantro, pickles, fried onions, chipotle barbecue), and “The Big Tuna” (seared ahi tuna, cilantro slaw, crema wasabi). Hand-made corn tortillas can be subbed for flour or a lettuce wrap.

An expanded veggie section includes a “Cauli Love” (smoked cauliflower, chipotle, cucumber, pistachios, shoestring onions) and a fried avocado variety with chipotle sauce and shoestring plantains. A new “Beyond Taco” section will star burritos, quesadillas, and a few entrees.

The delayed venture was originally scheduled to arrive last fall. The finishing touches on its towering Day of the Dead-themed mural were finished March 10 — right before the city shut down. Artists Mike Pacheco and Rodrigo Pradel also graffitied up the walls inside and atop corrugated metal along its upstairs bar.

An eight-seat patio will sit outside Rebel Taco Cantina.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC

While Bramson acknowledges it’s “not the most ideal time to open,” he’s ready to bring takeout-friendly tacos to the strip. Rebel Taco’s arrival means instant competition for late-night taco stalwart El Rey, located nearby along the strip.

Bramson’s business parter Michael Juliano once worked at a small taco spot in Mexico and dreamed of opening his own stateside location one day.

“Since my first restaurant in 2014 I had my eyes set on a taco concept. I didn’t want to rush it and waited for the right opportunity and partners,” says Bramson.

Latin chef Jorge Contreras did three years of R&D to help create Rebel’s menu, and his tortilla stems from a family recipe. Bramson also brought in Maurizio Reyes as a partner on the U Street NW location.

Bramson’s Rebel Taco food truck, parked at his beer garden The Lot in Arlington, will continue to operate into the fall. Rebel Taco also operates a fast-casual stall inside Philly’s Bourse food hall.

Bramson also plans to expand with a previously-announced additional location in Mount Vernon Triangle (508 K Street NW), now scheduled to arrive next spring. The neighborhood is also waiting on a new tequila-driven venture from restaurateur Richard Sandoval under a strip club.

Here’s a look at the initial and grand opening menus:

Rebel Taco and the Lot are operated by Bramson, his wife, Christal Bramson, and designer Michael Juliano.

“My wife and I travel to eat. That is our way to learn about a culture and we love Mexico. We have taken several trips there and around the country trying out as many taco places as we can. It always ends up being a meal before the meal,” says Bramson.

Bramson was also co-founder of millennial-friendly Social Restaurant Group (SRG), which runs D.C.’s La Vie and Provision 14 and Bar Bao and Pamplona in Clarendon.

“We are used to big openings, so we have to adapt and make the best of the situation,” he says.

Bramson and SRG business partners Naeem Mohd and Rajiv Chadha are still tangled in a string of legal lawsuits, accusing one another of “fraud, financial mismanagement, and breach of contract,” according to Washingtonian.

Bramson accuse them “of trying to oust him from their Wharf restaurant La Vie under false pretenses,” while Mohd and Chadha accuse Bramson of “secretly scheming to steal away the chef of their [unopened] Japanese restaurant and fraudulently misleading them about it,” reports Washingtonian.

He tells Eater the litigation is still pending.