There’s Mexican food, and then there’s Tex-Mex food. The two are not to be confused, especially at Ometeo. The massive new Northern Virginia venture from Top Chef season 18 winner Gabe Erales and Long Shot Hospitality Group (Dauphine’s, the Salt Line) pays homage to Erales’ upbringing in the borderlands between Texas and Mexico in an inviting space that celebrates Southern hospitality and a unique blend of culinary cultures.
The sprawling, 11,000-square-foot newcomer, with room for 240 inside and 75 out, opens for daily dinner service in Capital One Center next week (1640 Capital One Drive, Tysons, Virginia). Ometeo, which gets its name from the native Nahautl words ome (“two”) and teotl (“God”), captures cuisines from both sides of the border. And while Erales is no stranger to Mexican food or Texas cooking, this marks the first time he’s dabbling in both. (Back at his Austin home base, he recently unveiled Yucatán-themed Bacalar and walk-up taco counter Tómalo Taquería.)
“To me, Tex-Mex borrows from the styles of northern Mexicans, Native Americans, and Texan pioneers who cooked over campfires on trails,” he says. “I grew up being so influenced by this blend of cuisines, but have never really cooked professionally in this manner.”
The menu, which Erales describes as “seafood-focused Tex-Mex,” highlights ingredients sourced from the Gulf of Mexico. For example, the Ceviche Clásico features Texas red drum fish, red jalapeno, and crunchy hominy, while a so-called Stuffie Tamal — Erales’ play on a tamale-meets-stuffed clam — combines quahog clams, chorizo verde, and manchego with heirloom corn masa.
The restaurant, three years in the making, represents one of Erales’ first ventures outside of Texas. Erales comes to D.C. with a controversial backstory. Shortly after Erales won the 18th season of the hit Bravo show in summer 2021, it was revealed that he was fired from his opening head chef role at Austin’s modern Mexican restaurant Comedor due to allegations of sexual harassment during his time at the job.
At Ometeo, the El Paso-born chef brings Tysons some tried-and-true Tex-Mex favorites.
“It’s important not to mess up the classics,” he noted, which is why he’s serving a traditional chile con queso with a Texas cheese blend, chile toreado, and pico de gallo. Of course, for an Erales twist, diners can elect to sub in shrimp picadillo for chorizo.
To help bring Ometeo to life, he partnered with chef Kyle Bailey and Jeremy Carman, who are no strangers to bringing regionally-focused dining destinations to D.C.
“Everything we do is inspired from where one of us is from,” says Carman. His own Maine upbringing sparked the genesis of the Salt Line, the popular New England seafood hosue with locations in Navy Yard, Ballston, and Bethesda.
“When we opened Dauphine’s, we modeled it after an old guard New Orleans restaurant in order to keep it comforting and nostalgic, but wanted it to still feel accessible to DMV residents,” says Bailey.
And comfort and nostalgia are integral to Tex-Mex cooking. “Part of the beauty of Tex-Mex is that you’ve likely had a version of the cuisine no matter where you’re from,” he added, “We just wanted to bring an updated version to Capital One Center through more of a chef-driven lens.”
That ethos drives Ometeo’s extensive tortilla program, all of which (in their multiple forms and functions) will be made in-house. That includes the tortilla for the much-hyped quesadilla machete, a foot-long quesadilla not for the faint of heart, as well as for Ometeo’s fajitas, which Bailey is particularly excited about.
“We’re really interested in exploring the full world of fajitas, taking this humble classic and adding some serious, quality ingredients while maintaining the light-heartedness of the dish,” he says.
For example, the De Res fajitas will feature an optional add-in of bone-in short rib and New York strip steak, while the Del Mar fajitas offer half a lobster, scallops, and squid. These proteins will be accompanied by poblanos, cactus, a puddle of melted cheese, and of course, served on a sizzling platter.
The cocktail menu leans heavily on agave-based spirits, with plenty of margaritas and frozen cocktails fit for a sunny day. A section of whiskeys and Texas-made brews nod to the Lone Star state.
And because everything is bigger in Texas, Ometeo’s expansive design offers plenty of room for simultaneous social gatherings.
“Whether it’s a group of colleagues getting together for after-work drinks or a family going out for a celebratory meal, we want it to feel like a place where you can bond over great food,” says Carman.
Tuesday, November 28 at 4:47 p.m.: This story has been updated to note details on Erales’ background.