Chupacabra Latin Kitchen & Taqueria, the nearly 10-year-old staple off H Street NE, quietly reopened last month with a fresh cast of Mexican dishes, renewed devotion to meats, and big focus on frozen booze.
Barracks Row restaurateur Gaynor Jablonski (Valor Brewpub, The Ugly Mug) scooped up the small, walk-up fixture from its original owners in January, and his first plan of action was to capitalize on its lengthy outdoor real estate with room for 80. So he built a sliding barn door, revealing a new patio bar that sends out six slushy cocktails at a time (822 H Street NE).
“It’s a place that’s been here before and has a little following, but frankly it’s been underutilized and never been brought to its full potential,” Jablonski tells Eater.
Additions to the menu include Chupacabra’s first-ever burrito (and bowl), nachos, a taco salad, and atypical tacos fillings like fried chicken. Ryan Gordon of nearby British gastropub the Queen Vic consulted on Chupacabra’s menu reboot, adding a Mexican-leaning cheesesteak on a toasted roll.
Proteins also include braised beef barbacoa, pineapple-marinated pork slow-roasted on a spit, seasoned chorizo, and habanero-tinged lamb. More meats are on the horizon, thanks to a big hire from the neighborhood: accomplished D.C. pitmaster Shawn McWhirter. Before opening Smokin’ Pig on H Street NE in 2020, the Hill Country Barbecue Market alum helmed the smokers at DCity Smokehouse when Rob Sonderman left to start Federalist Pig.
McWhirter is currently based at Valor on Barracks Row, where he’ll lead a summer barbecue pop-up starting in May. In the fall, a second smoker will join the mix at Chupacabra and play a part in rotating specials.
Some of its best sellers haven’t gone anywhere. Chupacabra 2.0 retains its core team of Mexican female chefs who’ve been board since day one. Their homemade lechon (oven-roasted pulled pork) that goes into its top-selling Cubano now reappears in a taco, too.
Other favorites like yuca fries and chunks of chicharron are also here to stay, along with four ascending salsas that top out at a daring “scorpion” level.
“I don’t mess with it – you have to be a heat freak,” Jablonski says.
Takeout, delivery, dine-in, and patio hours are Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Its outdoor-only seating component now includes colorful four-tops and chairs under a newly covered patio, along with rows of communal tables stretching up to H Street NE. There’s three frozen drink machines on-site, with two more on the way, and the mix comes from Dallas’ decades-old company Margarita On the Run.
“I can’t find a distributor here who sells it – they ship it directly to you,” Jablonski says.
Details for its big Cinco de Mayo party next month will be released soon.
Meanwhile, the Northeast neighborhood will welcome a brand new Mexican restaurant this spring. Chef Rolando Frias, who opened the original Taqueria Al Lado in Adams Morgan last year, will open Taqueria Al Lado II in the renovated, pint-sized space that formerly housed D.C. fried fish institution Horace and Dickie’s.