Innovate or die, as they say. And that’s never been more true than in the restaurant industry in Washington. And Espita Mezcaleria is doing just that. The stylish, independently-owned Mexican spot in Shaw, has been making some innovative changes in its food and beverage menus so we dropped in to take a look.
The theme at Espita is “authentic, not traditional,” inspired by the culinary team’s recurring trips to Oaxaca, where they learned traditional Oaxacan flavors and culinary techniques. However, the team struggled to source the same amazing produce and ingredients found in Southern Mexico, so rather than settle for second best, they opted to recreate Oaxacan dishes and flavors with local ingredients found in the States. The result is a menu of tacos, tostadas, moles, and tamales made with unexpected ingredients like duck breast and beets, as well as cashew butters, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds for those nutty flavors.
The cocktails are broken into three categories: “highballs” which are lighter, “shaken & citrusy,” and “stirred & boozy.” Plus, you can always try a mezcal. All the bartenders take part in the creation of the beverages, and are ready to walk you through the menu and help you select something you’ll enjoy.
I’m crazy about Drake and citrus, so I selected the “Hold On We’re Going Home,” concocted by owner Josh and head bartender Megan. The cocktail was crafted with tequila blanco, peach liqueur, suze, cocchi rosa, and citrus. It was a floral, citric and light beverage, served in a high ball on ice with a sweet, peachy nose and a bitter, tart finish.
Meanwhile, the Ginger Turmeric Highball offers a unique, healthy beverage. A rum drink served in a highball glass, this libation is made with both Mexican rum and rum from local distillery Cotton & Reed. It’s effectively a ginger and turmeric mule, but with rum. It was bright yellow and tasted medicinal— like rum and medicine. We’re not sure we’d order this one again, despite the health benefits.
The avocado tostada was truly unique, simultaneous spicy and thick. Rather than recreate Oaxacan flavors with Oaxacan ingredients (which are hard to come by), Espita uses unique substitutes. To make a thick mole, the chefs used cashew butter, cacao nibs, and sunflower sprouts, resulting in an avocado toast with a thick creamy sauce that tasted like a Mexican chocolate peanut butter. It was interesting, but not our favorite dish on the menu.
The tacos are all served on house-made, purple corn tortillas, which tend to fall apart after after one bite, or even beforehand. The seasonal squash tacos are a must order with fried maitake mushrooms, rainbow chard, pickled beet, delicate squash and a smoked, walnut crema. This is a dense, flavorful, and utterly delicious taco. It’s particularly noteworthy as it’s a unique combination of flavors we’ve never tasted (smoked walnut crema atop fried mushrooms), it literally tastes like fall, and is a great, hearty dish for vegetarians.
The ceviche was a sight to behold: beautiful, impossibly fresh chunks of raw hamachi atop a jalapeño. The bowl of ice was filled with charred avocado, pomegranates, salsa macha, pistachio, and pickled beets. There was a lot going on—and while we enjoyed the flavors and presentation, the dish quickly melted into a bowl of red, cold water. We do not recommend ordering this if you’re wearing white.
The apple cider churros are a no-brainer, as what Bitch can turn down festive churros? These enormous, dark, fried confections were thick, dense and fluffy with a thick spiced caramel exterior and strong apple flavors. It was served with a rich, creamy cinnamon ice cream that paired perfectly.
This is the perfect spot for unique craft cocktails, delicious chips and salsa, and awesome desserts. Some of the more unique takes on Oaxacan food are more adventurous than the traditional diner might desire, but it’s certainly worth a visit.