Kennedy Street Tacos
Every week, Jaren Morrow tries to think of a surprise menu item to post on Instagram for his Kennedy Street Tacos pop-up at Jackie Lee’s in Brightwood. That’s how he came up with his own spin on a chalupa with a fry bread shell, and he’s been toying with debuting either a Mexican pizza or a riff on a seafood taco with a creamy lemon butter sauce. “It keeps it interesting,” Morrow says. “It’s a new challenge every week.”
The chef, whose résumé includes such spots as Old Ebbitt Grill and (the now-closed) Kith and Kin and Momofuku CCDC, has had taco Tuesday covered at Jackie Lee’s for a year now as a way to help the bar to make it through the pandemic. The name combines Jackie Lee’s Kennedy Street location and “street tacos,” and Morrow’s menu is all about having fun. He kicked off the project by thinking: “What if I did a play off of Taco Bell’s menu?” That’s how he came up with a version of a crunchwrap. Choose a protein such as beef, chicken or mushroom, and Morrow pairs it with a blend of nacho cheese and Monterey Jack, plus a cilantro-spiked avocado mousse folded inside a tostada and flour tortilla. “I seal that all up and toast it on a flat top and that crispy tortilla still stays crunchy on the inside,” he says.
Tuesday at Jackie Lee’s. 116 Kennedy St. NW. jackieleesdc.com.
Catering company owner Maria Helena Iturralde knew she needed to make a change when the pandemic hit, so she decided to realize her longtime dream of introducing Bolivian cuisine to Washington. That ended up being a quite literal introduction, at times: The native of La Paz discovered that many customers at her pop-ups with breweries like 3 Stars and Right Proper had never eaten a salteña.
“This is not an empanada,” she would tell them. “This is a combination of a soup dumpling and a pot pie in a sweet pastry dough. It’s very soupy.” She even created instructions on how to eat one to avoid shirt-staining disasters (give the salteña a shake and eat from the top down).
Saya Salteña moved into Prescription Chicken’s virtual food hall near Howard University in January. There are quite a few Bolivian snacks on the menu, but salteñas are the main focus. In addition to traditional flavors like spicy beef or chicken, Iturralde offers her own fillings. Try the quinoa vegan version, or a dessert salteña packed with sliced apples and passion fruit puree. “It’s such a great dough, it just goes well with literally anything,” Iturralde says.
When you order a picnic kit at 14th Street sub shop Compliments Only, there’s a kazoo thrown in along with plates and napkins. That playful vibe extends to the menu, too: The most popular item is Crunchy Boi, a turkey sub with potato chips tucked inside the sandwich.
“It does feel like we’ve created a monster,” co-owner Emily Cipes jokes about the Crunchy Boi sub, which makes up 30 percent of the shop’s sandwich sales. She started Compliments Only with sandwich maker Pete Sitcov: the two previously joined forces at Coconut Club’s ghost kitchen sub shop, and decided to go off on their own with a new name and menu when that restaurant closed down in the fall. “We took our savings and in six weeks went from ‘We should find a place to open a sandwich shop’ to being totally and completely open, having our own company inside of BodySmith Gym,” Cipes says.
Six months later, Compliments Only is still selling out regularly. The 475-square-foot shop is extending its hours for summer, and debuting new picnic-ready sandwiches such as the Top Knot, a sub topped with turkey, cheddar, green apple slices, alfalfa sprouts and a slather of rosé-infused mayo.
Everything about Japanese sandwich shop Hello Sando is cute, from the cartoon logo to the way each sandwich fits perfectly in its box. “We want the whole experience [to be] like receiving a gift,” says Janny Kim, who runs Hello Sando with Huy Huynh. The two chefs worked together at (the now-closed) Himitsu, and when the pandemic hit, they launched a pop-up inspired by the type of sandwiches sold at convenience stores in Japan. Last fall, they started a pick-up-only shop run out of Tiger Fork, and the business has since blossomed into a weekly stall at Union Market, which will be open through the summer.
Sandwiches are made with soft milk bread with such fillings as soft-boiled egg swirled with Kewpie mayonnaise or roast beef accompanied by fresh-grated horseradish, Muenster cheese and more mayo. Round out your meal with Hello Sando’s togarashi-infused take on Costco’s macaroni salad and a half-and-half-inspired iced yuzu matcha lemonade featuring matcha from Leesburg-based Kenshō Tea.
After popping up at different restaurants, Puerto Rican catering company Qui Qui is settling in for a year-long run above the Passenger in Shaw. The second floor is now done up with bright colors and old-school advertisements for Puerto Rico, and chef Ismael Mendez is cooking such traditional dishes as pernil (slow-roasted pork shoulder) and mofongo (fried smashed plantains).
Another favorite is pastelon, which is “very lasagna-like, with layers of ground beef, sweet plantains and cheese,” explains Qui Qui beverage and FOH manager Jessie Marrero. She’s responsible for the pop-up’s cocktails, which include mojitos, daiquiris, traditional non-blended pina coladas and a vegan version of coquito, a cinnamon-y coconut-based rum punch that features three types of coconut milk. For diners who are new to Puerto Rican cuisine, Marrero likes to offer a chichaito shot — a blend of rum and anise — as a bit of a welcome.
Once word got out about La Tejana’s breakfast taco pop-ups, Texans — or fellow “Tex-pats” as co-founder Ana-Maria Jaramillo calls them — started driving in from as far as Frederick and Prince William counties. “A lot of them didn’t go home during the pandemic,” Jaramillo says. “When they had our tacos, [they’d say] ‘This reminds me of what my abuelita would make me.’ That just gives me chills.”
Jaramillo grew up in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley, and her know-how helped her fiance, chef Gus May, perfect their made-from-scratch flour tortillas. La Tejana began operating just before the pandemic, and has picked up speed since then, starting with a residency at Thamee on H Street followed by their current weekly pop-ups in Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant that will run throughout the summer. There are five different foil-wrapped breakfast tacos on the menu, but Jaramillo says Texans are often drawn to “The 956,” named after the Rio Grande’s area code. That taco channels a famous version from the Valley, with scrambled eggs, refried beans, bacon, fried potatoes, cilantro and a drizzle of homemade queso. The queso is key to La Tejana’s newly-launched nachos with pork and pickled jalapeños, which they’ve been serving at occasional pop-ups at Other Half Brewing in Ivy City.