Innovation and Oaxacan Tradition Collide

MARY CATE WHELAN/THE HOYA Conceptualized around Mezcal, a Mexican beverage similar to tequila, Espita Mezcaleria offers a twist on classics in an industrial atmosphere.

MARY CATE WHELAN/THE HOYA
Conceptualized around Mezcal, a Mexican beverage similar to tequila, Espita Mezcaleria offers a twist on classics in an industrial atmosphere.

Espita Mezcaleria, a modern Mexican restaurant and Mezcal bar — an establishment serving a distilled alcohol similar to tequila — opened this month in the Shaw neighborhood following months of anticipation. The restaurant’s concept is inspired by the Oaxaca region in Mexico, from the recipes to the Mezcal to the decor. Backed by general manager Josh Phillips, one of the few certified “Master Mezcaliers” in the world, and executive chef Alexis Samayoa, who has artfully developed seven classic styles of mole, Espita Mezcaleria offers traditional Mexican dishes with an innovative twist.

Walking into Espita Mezcaleria, I was instantly transported from a busy road to a chic and trendy eatery that resembles an art gallery with a quirky industrial interior. Espita Mezcaleria suggests that one should “eat with their eyes first.” The restaurant’s designer, Rachel Aikens of Reid & Taylor Studio in New York City, helped to mold a modern environment that blends with authentic Oaxacan art. Yescka, an Oaxacan street artist, painted two huge and colorful wall murals for the restaurant. Even the restroom walls are painted with an Aztec-style mural, creating an authentic Mexican vibe.

The vast menu offerings were certainly impressive. I started the meal with two varieties of the seven modern salsas the menu offers: pistachio and borracha with fresh heirloom corn chips. The fresh corn chips alone were enough to satisfy me. The crisp, golden brown chips were dusted with the perfect amount of salt, giving it an addictive quality. The pistachio salsa, the mildest of the salsas, blends with roasted tomatillo, serrano, sherry and mint. The combination of the fresh ingredients formed a thick texture. The pistachio salsa had a rich, buttery flavor, balancing perfectly with the crunch of the chip.

The borracha salsa, made with mezcal, orange and chipotle moritas, was on the spicy end of the salsa selection. The mezcal was the star ingredient in the salsa; I tasted it immediately upon the salsa touching my tongue, followed by a fiery kick. The mild tortilla chip balanced the overpowering heat of the salsa. Although I am not a huge fan of spice, the salsa would definitely be appealing to those seeking a flavorful and zesty heat.

Our entrees arrived promptly after we finished the appetizers. I ordered the maitake mushroom and chicken tacos. The mushroom taco was served with salsa borracha and pickled white onion. The bright red salsa drizzled over the mushroom and white onions on a bed of a perfectly-sized flour tortilla. Biting into the taco, I immediately noticed the spice. The salsa borracha was drizzled on the taco in perfect moderation, complementing the bitter, savory taste of the onions and the mushrooms. The flour tortilla was soft and light, yet sturdy, holding together all the generous ingredients in the taco without breaking.

The chicken taco was topped with a bright red and orange bell pepper sofrito. Again, the sturdy tortilla held all the ingredients together, allowing the juicy, marinated chicken to blend with the freshness of the bell peppers. The dish perfectly balanced the heaviness of the chicken with the lightness of the peppers and the tortilla. Unlike the salsa and mushroom taco, the chicken taco was milder in spice level.

My friend adventurously ordered the pipian, a country-style pork rib drenched in a roasted tomato, serrano and hoja santa mole and topped with pumpkin seeds. The dish is served with fresh heirloom corn tortillas. I sampled a bite of the dish and was impressed by its unique flavor. The mild but flavorful green mole had a pesto-like aroma. The texture of the mole-coated pork almost melted in my mouth. When I reached in to sample another bite of the perfectly executed pork, my friend fended me off, insisting he wanted it all to himself.

While the food and vibe of the restaurant were pleasantly unique, the dishes were certainly on the pricier end and difficult to afford with the average college student’s budget. In addition, although the restaurant was not completely full, it was overbearingly loud.

The fresh and spicy food combined with the edgy ambience and good service already have me itching to return to Espita Mezcaleria. For those craving spicy, authentic Mexican cuisine, this Shaw neighborhood restaurant will definitely do the trick.

Be sure to make reservations in advance, as the restaurant only opens for dinner and seats fill up fast.

 

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