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Tim Ma’s Tiny New Taco Bar Honors GWU’s Beloved Hippo Statue

Hippo Taco opens atop Western Market later this spring

A hippo statue
GWU’s animated hippo statue near Lisner Auditorium.
The Hatchet/official photo
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

A bronzed hippopotamus standing prominently on George Washington University’s campus is the muse for the Northwest neighborhood’s newest taco bar.

Local chef and restaurateur Tim Ma (Lucky Danger, Laoban Dumplings) teams up with hospitality duo Ben Sislen and Jonas Singer to plant a new 1,200-square-foot taqueria atop Foggy Bottom’s growing Western Market food hall later this spring (2000 Pennsylvania Avenue NW).

Hippo Taco’s adorable name pays homage to GWU’s unofficial mascot — a gifted hippo statue sitting at the corner of 21st and H streets NW for over 20 years. Students lovingly pet its head and put coins in its open mouth for good luck.

“Western Market is a hub for the university,” says Ma. “[Hippo Taco] gives us exposure on the back side where all the students come in and out.”

The indoor-outdoor venture will sling Asian fusion tacos and quirky items that harken back to the Chinese-American chef’s days running the menu at downtown’s progressive Eaton hotel.

“One of my favorite things was its hidden [rooftop] taco bar at Wild Days,” he says. “I’m revisiting some of that stuff I did with the food program here.”

A facade of Western Market
Hippo Taco will sit on an upper tier in the back of Western Market.
Western Market/official photo

One comeback vegan dish will unite Impossible chili with airy Snacklins crisps. For tacos, look for a Szechuan variety with chopped, all-natural chicken thighs rubbed with chili and peppercorn, roasted peppers, and salsa verde. A shaved bulgogi taco will feature sweet and salty Korean barbecue beef, scallion, radish, sesame seed. Hippo Taco’s menu, still in development, will loop in other local meats, expanded selection of globe-trotting taco fillings, and salads.

Hippo Taco’s bar program will go heavy on Eastern shore favorites, like an orange crush and Maryland makers like RAR Brewing, to go along with summery frozen drinks, wines and cocktails on draft. A roll-up garage door will be worked into the brightly colored setup, with room for 30 during lunch through nighttime service. Hippo Taco will sit next to a public courtyard that hosts live music.

The Hippo Taco team is also behind Western Market’s ExPat, a new 8,000-square-foot sports (betting) bar opening this spring with Southern-leaning spins on bar food and playful drinks. Ma will also bring Western Market an outpost of his popular American-Chinese takeout venture Lucky Danger.