The team behind popular Mexican restaurants Cactus Cantina and Lauriol Plaza plant a flag for laid-back American cuisine in Adams Morgan. The new 335-seat Alfresco Tap and Grill, a multi-tiered restaurant with three distinct patios on a hillside perch, comes to life in March on the site of a former parking lot.
Managing partner Cindy Sanchez and husband Jaime Sanchez pivot from the tacos and enchiladas they’re known for two blocks south at decades-old Lauriol Plaza with a catch-all menu full of sandwiches, burgers, pastas, and pizza (2009 18th Street NW).
Newly named Spanish chef Israel Bartoli, an alum of La Tasca, Ben’s Next Door, and Wagshal’s, leads the kitchen. Apps include crispy duck rolls, crab cake croquettes, and arugula-stuffed prosciutto rolls finished with shaved Parmesan and a balsamic drizzle. Fork-less food like hefty handhelds make up much of the menu, with a dedicated oven for pizza. Entrees include a boneless short rib slow-cooked in Chianti wine, with mashed potatoes and crispy carrots.
The new neighborhood gathering spot draws inspiration from the late Clyde’s Restaurant Group CEO John Laytham, who was a role model for Sanchez’s father, Raul Sanchez (Raul is also a partner in Alfresco). Raul says his longtime goal was to “build an Adams Morgan neighborhood restaurant that serves its community well.” The team first announced Alfresco in January 2017, but the pandemic created expected construction delays.
At the bar, Alfresco will pour a generous selection of draft and bottled beers, plus wines by the glass and bottle. As a nod to their wildly popular frozen drinks at Lauriol, the restaurant will serve slushy margaritas and Negronis. New drops include a martini limoncello—a white martini featuring lemon Citron vodka and turmeric syrup—and a “Power Mojito” made with kale and kiwi. Weekday happy hour (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) will include $5 beers and wines, $6 cocktails, and $5-and-up apps.
Grupo7 Architecture + Interiors oversaw the buildout, which takes over the Sanchez family-owned parking lot that handled spillover from Lauriol Plaza for years.
“It was a major undertaking to transform it and clean up the site so we could build on this property,” says Cindy Sanchez.
Floor-to-ceiling glass windows let lots of natural light flow through the dining area, and even more so in the central courtyard, which has a retractable pergola roof. The patio facing 18th Street NW features Belgian “drum chandeliers” that act as both a source of light and heat. Alfresco lives up to its name with a whopping 212 outdoor seats (and 123 inside).
“We wanted to have a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor dining while still retaining a feeling of intimacy at each table,” says Grupo7 founding partner José Tohá.
Cindy Sanchez grew up working at Lauriol Plaza and its upper Northwest sibling Cactus Cantina, owned by her father Raul. Raul, a Cuban exile, founded Lauriol in 1983 and Tex-Mex mainstay Cactus Cantina in 1990 with chef-business partner Luis Reyes; both are also partners at Alfresco.
Year-round Alfresco Tap and Grill will serve weekday lunch starting at 11:30 a.m., dinner until as late as 11 p.m., and weekend brunch, with takeout and delivery options too.