Master Mezcalier Josh Phillips announced the early January opening of Espita Mezcaleria, the 122-seat Oaxacan-inspired restaurant located in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The restaurant will specialize in authentic flavors of Oaxaca, with a focus on the region’s seven styles of mole. A collection of sopes and ceviches will also be available along with tacos and tlayudas made with hand-pressed heirloom corn tortillas. For the perfect pairing, Espita Mezcaleria will offer an expansive, rotating collection of mezcals.
Alexis Samayoa has been tapped as executive chef of Espita Mezcaleria. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Samayoa credits his culinary inspiration to watching countless hours of acclaimed Chef Rick Bayless cooking Mexican fare on the Public Broadcasting Service. He also picked up cooking techniques along the way while preparing Puerto Rican recipes with his mother, and authentic Guatemalan cuisine with his father.
A culinary graduate of The Art Institute of New York City, Samayoa began his culinary career in 2002 while serving as a chef de partie at WD-50 in Manhattan under Chef/owner Wylie Dufresne. Then in October 2008, Samayoa began working as a sous chef at Txikito, a Spanish small plates restaurant under Chef/owner Alex Raji. In February 2011, he teamed up with Chef/owner Alex Stupak to serve as chef de cuisine of Empellón Taqueria, where he worked for almost two years before accepting a position as chef de cuisine of La Esquina. Samayoa served at La Esquina for six months before moving onto to serve as chef de cuisine of El Vez, Stephen Starr’s Mexican concept located in Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City. Eager to leave the bustling streets of Manhattan, Samayoa accepted a position as executive chef of Tocolo Cantina in Garden City, New York, where he served from September 2014 until July 2015 when Josh Phillips recruited him to relocate to Washington, D.C., to open Espita Mezcaleria.
The menu at Espita Mezcaleria will offer rustic flavors that combine traditional Mexican and modern technique while staying true to the spirit of Oaxacan fare. The goal is to explore the story of Oaxacan culture in each and every bite. Guests can anticipate standout dishes such as Mole Negro with lamb; Scallop Ceviche with salsa verde, avocado and pickled jalapeño; Duck Carnitas Tacos, as well as Crab Tlayudas. Prices will range from $8 to $28.
The bar program at Espita Mezcaleria will offer an expansive, rotating selection of mezcals featuring many varietals and styles. Mezcal will be available in 1 or 2-ounce pours, as a choice of flights, or highlighted in a cocktail. Additionally, many of the drinks at Espita Mezcaleria will also be available by the pitcher for guests to share. Cocktails will be priced from $10 to $16 each.
Josh Phillips collaborated with his sister, Rachel Phillips of Reid & Taylor Studios in New York City, to design the space. “The interior takes the authentic Oaxacan feel and updates it with a modern approach to match the food coming out of the kitchen by chef Alexis Samayoa,” says Rachel Phillips. “We found that in Oaxaca much of the design is based off of found objects. We took this idea and either exploited materials found in the space or manipulated raw materials to create a warm industrial interior that comes together with authentic Oaxacan art. The backdrop for the restaurant will offer a collection of murals by Yescka, an internationally renowned Oaxacan street artist and founder of the political art collection ASARO [Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca].
Josh Phillips also collaborated with his mother, Sandra Phillips, to design the logo. Phillips is a Philadelphia based artist and graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her usual medium is acrylic on paper, but she jumped at the opportunity to work with her son to create the rabbit logo and vinyl exterior artwork for Espita Mezcaleria. The rabbits are images of the Centzon Totochtin, the children of the Aztec Goddess Mayahuel and her god husband Petecatl. As she is the goddess of agave and fertility, and he is the god of the fermented agave beverage, pulque, her 400 mischievous rabbit children are the result of a drunken good time.
The main dining room will accommodate 62 guests seated and offer guests excellent views of Shaw through the restaurant’s expansive windows. Those looking to focus their attention on the restaurant’s extensive mezcal collection are encouraged to grab a seat at the 16-seat bar or at one of the 10 additional bar stools, situated at the dining rail facing 9th Street. An outdoor patio will also be available during the spring, summer, and fall months [weather permitting] and can accommodate an additional 44 seats.