Words by Kaylee Dugan, Photos by Clarissa Villondo
Best if: you’re looking for a place where you can grab coffee and a damn good cocktail at the same time.
Cuban food has come to 14th Street in the most approachable way. If you’re looking to dip your toes into the water, I can’t imagine a better place than Colada Shop, where Cuban snacks abound and the menu is filled with recognizable items. It’s a place made for getting a cocktail with your friends after work, or grabbing a coffee on your way to the office in the morning. It’s a spot to grab a quick lunch, or maybe a pre-Black Cat snack. Colada Shop isn’t trying to sit you down and lecture you on the full breadth of Cuban food, it’s providing a small and quiet lesson in an easy and simple way. It’s a transitional space, the kind we’re seeing more and more in D.C.
And I’m kind of excited about that. D.C. is the sort of place that goes hard when it comes to trends. When the country was throwing itself into the cupcake fad, we were one of the forerunners. When fast casual swept the nation, D.C. was absolutely killing it. And now, with the rise of places like Tryst, The Coupe, The Royal, and to a weird extent, Pineapple & Pearls coffee bar, we’re seeing more and more places where people are meant to hang out all day long. Places that want you to start and end your day in their threshold.
Colada Shop is essentially the Cuban version of The Royal. It’s a coffee and pastry destination while also being a meticulously well run bar, that serves a sort of combination of lunch and dinner. And it does it well. While I don’t drink coffee (it’s not a health thing, I am a deeply unhealthy person, coffee just gives me headaches), my photographer told me the cortadito was very well done, if not a little on the sweet side. I was lightly bullied into trying a colada (which truly embodies the idea that this is a place meant for you to hang out), and I did not hate it which is truly a success. The drink involves four shots of espresso that are sweetened with sugar and meant to share. It’s like ordering a round for all of your friends. It’s a fun idea.
What captivates me, however, is the bar. Ran by Juan Coronado (formerly of Barmini), the menu is small but precise. The daiquiri, which uses the traditional ingredients, is probably the best I’ve ever had. It’s sweet sure, but you have the bite of the rum and the fresh lime that works beautifully with the cane sugar. It’s simple, it’s clean, you need to order one. Another highlight is the Hotel Nacional. Made with white rum, dark rum, apricot liqueur, pineapple juice, and a lime apricot puree, it’s a tropical vacation in your mouth. The pineapple takes over most of the apricot for me, but I come from a family that drinks vodka infused with actual Maui Gold pineapples on the regular (we make it ourselves! You can just order the pineapples online!) so I am about that life. This is the kind of drink I want when it’s flurrying outside. You can keep your spiked cider and your boozy hot chocolate. I want a drink that makes me feel like I could be on the beach if I close my eyes hard enough.
When it comes to the food, the vegetarian options score higher than the meat options. The croquetas are very easy to snack on, but it’s the mushroom I keep thinking about, over the chicken or ham. Likewise, the empanadas are dumb good, crispy and crunchy fried wonders, but I prefer the spinach and cheese. Colada Shop has a simple menu of pastelitos, and the guava and cheese is a clear winner to me. It’s bright and decadent, and again, the texture is on point. Of course, I’m not trifling with the vegetarian Cuban sandwich. I want all the ham and pork and Colada Shop’s version delivers. The balance of mustard, pickles, and meat is killer, and I have no complaints about the bread.
Until the rooftop is done and it’s nice enough to sit out on the patio, Colada Shop is a small space, and you’re going to have to fight to fit in with all of your friends, but if you’re looking for a place to hang out on 14th Street, you could do much worse. Just promise me you’ll order a drink, it would be criminal to let Coronado’s talent go to waste.
Colada Shop is located at 1405 T Street NW and opens February 1. Hours are from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday – Friday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday – Sunday.