Mike Isabella’s Bandolero to open May 24


Family affair: Mike Isabella and his wife, Stacy, whose father, Charlie Nemeth, handcrafted a number of wooden tables for Bandolero. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Bandolero is the New Jersey native’s stab at Mexican cuisine — or “modern Mexican,” as Isabella prefers to call his menu of small plates, which will wander beyond the confines of Mexico’s regional cuisines to incorporate flavors that have influenced the chef. Among the dishes that Isabella has prepared at his pop-ups, or has talked about in interviews, are a blue-crab taquito in a fried root chip with coconut milk and red chili pepper and a lobster taco served in squid-ink tortillas.

“Some of the food will be traditional,” says Isabella, whose debut restaurant, Graffiato, opened just last year. “Some of it will probably not be Mexican.”

The full menu is now available on the Bandolero site.

The alcohol program will venture far past the simple lagers that typically dominate Mexican restaurants. Yes, Bandolero will have a small, tidy beer list featuring such standbys as Tecate and Corona, but it will eventually include, Isabella says, a custom-made beer produced by DC Brau. The beer, the chef says, will be aged in tequila barrels. “But that will take a couple of months,” he adds.

Tequila and mezcal will take center stage in head mixologist Sam Babcock’s cocktail program; not only will Bandolero feature 50 to 60 tequilas but those spirits will dominate the drinks served at the restaurant, even in classics such as the Manhattan, which will feature aged tequila instead of bourbon.

Isabella’s team has even been working with a winery in New Mexico to produce a custom-made red and white wine for Bandolero — not that the chef thinks many diners will order vino with their Mexican plates. “You can put 10 to 15 wines on [the list],” he says, “but they’re not going to sell.”

The kitchen will be helmed by chef de cuisine Tony Starr, a.k.a. Juan Rivera, a Salvadoran native who has been in charge of the Bandolero pop-up kitchens. “He’s really excited,” Isabella says. “He’s doing a phenomenal job.”

For a sneak peek inside the new Bandolero — or at least a rough look at Isabella’s dark, Day of the Dead vision for the place — check out last week’s walk-through the space.

Bandolero, 3241 M St. NW, 202-625-4488. bandolerodc.com .

Further reading:

* An early look inside Mike Isabella’s Bandolero

* Mike Isabella is a (grand)mama’s boy

* Tom Sietsema’s review of Graffiato

* Isabella’s Bandolero pop-up hints at good things to come

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.
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