Friday, September 28, 2012


The prime Georgetown real estate once home to seafood-centric Hook shuttered due to a fire in Summer 2011. Owner Jonathan Umbel and Chef Mike Isabella have teamed up to open Bandolero in its place in May 2012.  Isabella, Graffiato chef/owner and two-time alum of Bravo's Top Chef, delivers a menu of modern Mexican small plates, including tacos, ceviches, fajitas and guacamole, as well as margaritas and mezcal cocktails.  Closest Metro is Foggy Bottom.

Photo: CityEats
The two-story, 5,000 square foot, high-energy space reflects a "Day of the Dead" motif, and plenty of bar space to imbibe. The menu showcases classic Mexican dishes with untraditional flavor profiles, including dips served with housemade chicharones and masa crisps, tacos, taquitos, enchiladas, empanadas, albondigas and carbons.  "My vision for Bandolero is a high-energy, high-volume restaurant to match the bustling vibe of the Georgetown neighborhood and feed the late-night appetite of its college students," said Isabella in a release. The chef cites his time with acclaimed Chef Jose Garces as a big influence on the new spot. In addition to small plates, Isabella is also planning a spin on fajitas, filled with duck, goat and lesser-known cuts meat. And like its older sibling Graffiato who pours Prosecco on tap, Bandolero offers margaritas on tap. Bandolero is open for lunch and dinner daily with a late-night menu of tacos.

Keith and I finally made it out to Georgetown to have dinner at Bandolero.  I admit, I was putting it off due to all the mixed reviews I had read and heard about the place.  We enjoyed Graffiato and was worried, as others noted, that Bandolero would be a let down.  Pushing all the doubts aside, I decided to see for myself and I'm glad we did. Our server, Mike, was great - very attentive the whole time and informative about the menu.  He thoughtfully timed each course throughout the night, allowing for the perfect flow - a note much improved upon from the rushed experience we had at Graffiato.  We opted for a pitcher of the house El Bandolero Margarita.  Despite being on tap, it was a very strong mix of espolon blanco tequila, patron citronage, lime, and blood orange.  The first sip was sour and spiked. Just the way I like my Maggies!

We were a little hungry, and hearing about the shared plates concept plus knowing that this might be our only visit, we decided to order a variety of things.  First, we started with the guacamole.  Though fresh, it was pretty standard, but was elevated with the crispy chicharones that Keith loved.  Next we ordered a few tacos - most came with three small ones save for the Mahi Mahi that came with only two.  The Mahi Mahi tacos were comprised of a large crispy fish stick with avocado and pickled vegetables, served with a chipotle mayo dipping sauce.  I really enjoyed the thick white fish meat and would have liked more fresh lime juice (the limes we got were a bit old/dried out), but would definitely order these again.  The suckling pig tacos were more traditional looking with large dollops of meat covered with julienned apple pieces and a HOLY HOT habanero mustard.  The shredded pork meat was juicy and bit too fatty for my liking, but Keith thought they were the best of the tacos.  They needed more apple to balance out the intense mustard that wiped out my palate.  Additionally, Keith ordered the skirt steak tacos that were less packed with meat, yet cooked well and had a different flavor profile.

I wanted to try one of the vegetarian dishes, and chose the Enchilada Verde stuffed with a delicious and satisfying blend of wild mushrooms and oaxaca cheese drowned in a mole verde.  The combination here was delightful and earthy, with a brightened aftertaste from the fresh cilantro.  My only complaint was that it could have been a bit warmer.  Keith ate an order of the sopes, a mini deep dish pizza looking item with a stew of lamb picadillo topped with a chipotle goat cheese sauce.  He found these the most filling of all the dishes due to the thick crust and chunky meat stew.  We could have stopped here, but decided to try the Chicken Torta - a traditional sandwich of chicken, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and pickled carrots.  Though stuffed with great ingredients, our full stomachs did not fully appreciate the torta and could have done without it.

Overall, I was pleased with my meal at Bandolero, yet would have been more pleased with a smaller bill.  The prices are a bit high for the small plates/sharing concept, but was acceptable for the quality of ingredients used, service and notoriety of a Top Chef restaurant, and location in yuppie Georgetown.  The drinks are strong and the food was flavorful - a great combination for a fun night out!

Total Rating: 3.98
Food: 4.5, Price: 2.5, Service: 4, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 4

What I ate:
masa crisps, chicharones

Crispy Mahi Mahi Tacos
chipotle, avocado, lime

Suckling Pig Tacos
apple, habanero mustard

Enchilada Verde
wild mushrooms, oaxaca cheese, mole verde

Chicken Torta
chicken, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado, pickled carrots

Plus Keith ate:
Skirt Steak Taco
refried beans, avocado, salsa, crispy onions

lamb picadillo, chipotle goat cheese

 Bandolero on Urbanspoon

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