This review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2017 Spring Dining Guide as No. 10 on a list of the year’s 10 best new restaurants.
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1405 T St. NW. 202-332-8800. coladashop.com.
Open: Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Prices: Breakfast dishes $2 to $4.75, sandwiches $9.98.
Sound check: 73 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
More of Tom Sietsema’s top 10 new restaurants
The following was originally published March 10, 2017.
Colada Shop in D.C. reviewed: Little Havana done right, and an $8 daiquiri
Here's what I think whenever I drop by the District branch for an elegant empanada stuffed with spinach and cheese, or a bracing colada (four shots of espresso with sugar): Miami feels closer than ever with this shout-out to Little Havana. A slip of a place that's open throughout the day, the storefront treats coffee like an art and benefits from the talent of, among other partners, Coronado, best known locally as the former bar wiz at Barmini.
Colada Shop’s chef, co-owner Mario Monte, 29, brings plenty of street cred to the notion, having been born in Miami to a Cuban father and an Italian mother, then raised in Venezuela. His Cuban sandwich layered with roast pork, Swiss cheese and pickles is pleasing. Even better is the vegetarian version: a jumble of marinated portobellos, roasted cauliflower, cilantro aioli and more between slices of bread that have been all but fused on the griddle. “I enjoy a plant-based lifestyle,” the chef says of the meatless bestseller. “I like to give options.”
Where the menu also succeeds is with the fried snacks, savory pastries and sweets. One stubby golden ham croqueta, creamy with bechamel, is never enough, and the empanadas — slender and satisfying with the likes of chicken thighs flavored with sofrito — elevate street food to something finer. Dense and delicious, Monte’s caramel-sauced flan derives from an old family recipe. (If there’s a weak link, it’s the breakfast sandwich filled with oddly bland pork and scrambled eggs.) Handsome packaging, inspired by the bags used by Cuban bakeries in Miami, gives the food the appearance of a gift.
Starbucks this is not. Awash in fruit-bowl colors, Colada Shop buys its beans from Compass Coffee, where one of the owner’s fathers is Cuban, and turns them into more than a dozen robust brews. (The hard part, says Coronado, was finding an “elegant but strong” blend that could stand up to condensed milk and sugar.) Beginning each day at 4 p.m., cocktails are added to the playlist. The eight selections include Hotel Nacional, the classic rum drink that Coronado tweaks with both aged and light spirits, lime and apricot puree, meaning it’s brighter and less sweet than the original.
The original Colada Shop set sail in Sterling last summer. The spinoff made its debut in February. The time between cafes gave the owners a chance to test and hone their ideas, says Coronado, who suggests there might be more Colada Shops on the horizon. (I’ll drink to that.)
Ten stools and two ledges inside the District shop are too few. You may want to take your order outside, on the patio dressed with tangerine-colored tables. Or wait until the end of the month, when the cafe expands to another room with 24 seats.
Then again, why wait? A true daiquiri or floral Cuba Libre created by one of the best in the business will set you back a mere $8. You read that right. Coronado disapproves of high-priced cocktails.
“At the end of the day, it’s super-doable” to make a drink for under two digits, says a man who should know. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”