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First Look: Bandolero Opens This Thursday
May 22, 2012 | 10:00AM

all photos: Stephanie Breijo

The second you walk into Mike Isabella’s highly anticipated new restaurant, Bandolero, smack in the middle of M Street in Georgetown, one thing is clear- this is not your Grandma’s favorite Mexican joint. Isabella always said that the brightly colored, cheery notes of usual Mexican eateries is, well, just not his thing. Instead, you get a darker, more rock’n'roll, Day-of-the-Dead vibe within seconds of passing the black awning outside.

All adding to the vibe in the 180 seating, 2 level space: re-purposed cemetery gates as informal divides between eating areas, a warm glow provided mostly by salvaged lighting on the exposed brick walls, mismatched seats and napkins purposefully chosen to take away from the cookie-cutter vibe Mexican restaurants often fall trap to, and, perhaps most notably-a vast selection of animal skulls which will be placed strategically on the walls of the restaurant in lieu of art.

As you take in the two prime communal tables (one on each floor), a long bar (which will be open late with salsas and taquitos on the menu) and the big, sink-into-them leather couches instead of traditional banquettes-the message is clear: this is the kind of Mexican place where it is ok to order not one, not two, but three or four cocktails with your drink.

Much like with his fabulously popular first outpost Graffiato, Mike Isabella went with his gut here: a place where he would like to hang out with his friends, drinks he likes to drink, food he likes to eat.

The service, which officially starts this Thursday, is going to be initially dinner based (similar hours to Graffiato-Sunday to Tuesday 4pm-10pm, Wednesday-Thursday 4pm-11pm with bar menu till midnight, and Friday-Saturday 4pm-midnight with bar menu till 2am) with imminent expansion into brunch and lunch pending as the kitchen settles into it’s groove.

The menu, on which Isabella worked on with his new chef-de-cuisine Tony Starr (also previously of Zaytinya), which we had a chance to preview in February, features plenty of classic dishes people look for in Mexican eateries but also a few decidedly on-trend 2012 items which are bound to go well down with the DC crowd: suckling pig tacos, Pozole Verde salad (with pork belly and soft egg on top), a number of vegetarian options (from wild mushroom tacos and crispy yucca tacos to enchiladas verdes) and those blue crab taquitos we got a chance to try during the “BACK TO SCHOOL” benefit which, in and of themselves, would be worth a late night visit to the bar.

The bar operation is manned by Sam Babcock, another one of Isabella’s previous collaborators at Graffiato (whom you also may remember from behind the bar @ Cafe Atlantico) and the cocktail menu is, shall we say, sturdy at first look: 10 Mexican inspired drinks (heavy on the mezcals and reposados and anejo tequilas), 8 different margaritas (including a blood orange one and a nice TIKI offering for the summer) and 9 more non tequila/mezcal based drinks with classics such as Aviation finding place to rye, pisco and gin drinks.

The bar, in general is full, and we did notice (and remember from his “What’s in your fridge?” story) Isabella’s favorite Basil Hayden’s on the shelves too. If you’re going to spend all your waking and non waking hours here-you better be prepared. Frankly-Thursday can’t be here soon enough.

BANDOLERO OPENS THURSDAY:
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  • Ananda says:

    WoW! I’ve missed alot while on our mini-vacation!! Congratulations again! You did such an aomewse job with no drugs!!! She is just as beautiful as her big sister! I saw your new SuperTarget being built when we passed you! It must be AWFUL to be so far from one! Thankfully, we have TWO! :) Get some rest! xo

  • Lucaass says:

    As far as sending mail goes it helps if you know a bit about your pen pals. I like to learn thnigs that my pen pals collect and from there always keep an eye out. For example, my one pen pal loves chunky, loud rings. So whenever I go to a thrift store or a clearance bin I look for her.I know that postcards can start to get a little mundane after a while. But random envies are usually my favorite thing to put together. I love putting stickers and seals, smaller envelopes, confetti, note cards, stationery, stamps (canceled or new), craft supplies, those free ad cards (which people from other countries really love!) that you get from various shows, concerts, fairs, etc., paper, dried flowers, flat candy (like pop rocks), playing cards, etc. in them. I have only a few pen pals that are in other countries (Brazil, South Africa) but they love getting these thnigs.Talk to your friends! Maybe they can give you some input about what to send them in the mail or what they aren’t able to receive in their country!

  • Sophia says:

    Is this really work by Mark Harris? I love his work, too—the details in his drawings are amazing. Looking forward to checking Bandolero out!

  • Dave says:

    I call bullshit on the “Kobe” beef on the menu, but I guess you’ve gotta have a way to fleece tourists in that neighborhood.

  • belubs says:

    It looks amazing! Already made my reservation
    Will Bandolero have a “small plates” thematic such as Graffiato has?
    And have you tried the bar menu? What does it offer?

  • Impress me with sOmE originality says:

    Here’s a thought: how about opening a restaurant that isn’t a play off someone else’s concept idea? Just saying.

  • svetlana Svetlana says:

    also-menu is live linked on the word MENU in the story, an easy click through for anyone interested

  • hoopster says:

    What? No happy hour menu?

  • Dude says:

    The art on the walls is by mark Harris. I love his work! Excited to see it in person and try some new food

  • Sophia says:

    Is it ? I love Mark Harris’ work, too—the detail in his illustrations is amazing. Very cool that he’s involved with Bandolero—looking forward to checking the place out!

  • where to eat says:

    This restaurant surely stands out! Will visit someday.