Prepare to be enchanted, intrigued, and wowed as the rich tapestry of Mexico City's culinary heritage unfolds at Stephen Starr’s new endeavor, El Presidente. Launching at Signal House in the Union Market District, El Presidente (1255 Union St. NE) ventures beyond the scope of a typical Mexican restaurant.
Its avant-garde, neo-retro aesthetic is a direct passport to the vibrant heart of Mexico City (CDMX) itself. Every bold bite is a testament to Mexico’s regionally diverse cuisine. The sprawling menu draws flavors, ingredients and techniques from across the country, featuring innovative dishes diners will find only at El Presidente. A feast of delights include Baja-style coastal oysters garnished with savory salsa negra and citrus miñoneta, to red chile-marinated Al pastor tacos and whole roasted cauliflower with ancho-pecan pipián to pescado a la talla (whole striped bass), as well as several riffs on guacamole that begin with rich, ripe Michoacán avocados.
It’s El Presidente’s rare spotlight on marisquería (seafood restaurant) offerings that will stand out stateside: an infinitely shareable “Gran Torre de Frutas de Mar,” their showstopping take on the classic seafood tower; ceviche redolent of coconut and cilantro; hamachi aguachile with hints of serrano and fennel; king crab draped in nutty salsa macha — each dish promises a spicy, tangy, rich homage to the fresh flavors of the coast, made front row at the elaborate raw bar.
“We’re thrilled to debut El Presidente and for diners to experience and explore our vast array of ingredients and cooking techniques, agave spirits and more,” says Stephen Starr. “We are equally excited to open this new concept in the bustling Union Market District, where STARR Restaurants continues to grow its footprint. It’s truly unlike any concept we’ve created before, and we’re glad it’s in D.C.”
The sophisticated creativity of the designers at AvroKO (Chicago’s Duck Duck Goat, New York’s Oiji Mi) permeates every corner of El Presidente’s three unique rooms and extensive patio. Nostalgic retro glamor and playful Deco design evoke the eclectic energy of the colonias of CDMX while conjuring the spontaneous feel of participatory theater.
Enter the “bar room,” which harkens back to the heyday of Mexican social clubs embodying the epitome of old charm and intimate allure. Comfy, fringed bar stools invite cocktail connoisseurs and culinary explorers to relax and relish the offerings against the backdrop of vintage pistachio green painted with sexy red accents. The room's crowning glory, a grand diorama by Silver Hill Arts, features massive, surrealist installations of the ocean and land. A scarlet-hued “theater room” delivers date-night vibes, with plush velvet seating, warm wood accents, a custom mountainscape mural by Annelisa Leinbach and intimate, curved banquettes.
The airy, leafy dining room, which offers a view of El Presidente’s raw bar, nods to the serene aesthetic of modern Mexican cafes with its blend of mellow blues, greens, and rhythmic striped patterns. Finally, a year-round, 60-seat patio completes the journey. Shaded from the elements by a pergola, it summons the energy of CDMX’s bustling food markets and street vendors, crafting a casual setting ideal for sharing plates and sipping cocktails al fresco.
Complementing this rich sensory experience is a whimsical beverage program that never takes itself too seriously. Expect cocktails like Sgt. Pepper, with mezcal, ancho reyes chili liqueur, red bell pepper juice, Thai chili and chili salt; Air Force Uno, made with Mexican rum, salted-grapefruit, guajillo pepper, mint and topo chico; a Michelada “service” for the table; and of course, a margarita. Tequila and mezcal fans will also find plenty to sip here. Agave spirits reign behind this bar, with upwards of 100 tequilas and approximately 50 mezcals to choose from; unique gins featuring Mexican botanicals and rums derived from pure cane sugar also play a starring role in your glass.
To start, El Presidente will open for dinner service only. Lunch and Brunch service will follow in the coming weeks.
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