Words by Kaylee Dugan
Photos by Nicholas Karlin
Before D.C. was known around the country as an honest-t0-god dining destination, it was the fast casual mecca. Sweetgreen, &pizza and Cava all started in the area and have managed to successfully spread far outside the confines of the DMV. Our fast casual scene isn’t just a D.C. way of life, it’s a thriving segment of the market. Jump started by the Chipotles of the world, it’s been proven time and time again that people really do want high quality food paired with the ease of ordering at McDonalds’. More importantly, people are willing to pay for it.
But what do you do if you want more than that? What do you do when you’re looking to stand out in a highly competitive market? In the case of Daniel Diaz and Louie Hankins, you build up.
Diaz and Hankins own the food truck / Shaw fast casual joint, Rito Loco, which is well known for its flavorful burritos. The crew has just opened El Techo, a rooftop bar located right above their burrito shop that’s dedicated to serving Latin American inspired tapas and classic cocktails. While the entire Rito Loco menu is available on the roof, you’re going to want to skip right past that and dive into the rooftop specials. A mix of tacos, ceviche and even a paella, the menu is small, but clearly built with care.
While sampling some dishes, we spoke with Diaz and Hankins about the expansion and while it seems like an odd pivot to move into the full service restaurant world, for them, it made sense. Not only does El Techo allow them to add alcohol (and the revenue that comes from it) to the menu, but it also gives them more room to experiment with foods that don’t shine in a fast casual setting, like ceviche.
Heading up their new bar program, Bryan Tate (formerly of Tiger Fork and Founding Farmers) has crafted a small menu fit to complement the new food. There are new twists on old classics like his Mojito, served with grapes and the Pepino Caipirinha made with cucumber and some spicy Mexican seasoning. But, the best drink by far is the spicy margarita. Pairing mezcal, pineapple and habanero is always going to be a winning combination.
When it comes to the food, there are a ton of taco options, including their classic burrito fillings like the OG and the rib, but do yourself a favor and grab one stuff with fried avocado. Sure, it defeats the purpose of eating an avocado, but paired with Rito Loco’s chimmichurri sauce, it’s addicting. A mixture of crunchy, bright and savory. It manages to taste like it’s bad for you and it’s good for you at the same time.
If you’re craving ceviche, both the white fish and the shrimp are good options, but I found the juicy pop of the shrimp to be more enjoyable than the white fish. Regardless, if you’re looking for an opportunity to mix crunchy tortilla chips with fresh, citrus-y seafood, you can’t go wrong. On the other hand, if you’re looking the share, the seafood paella is a warm, fragrant and filling option. Our photographer described it as ‘comfortable’ and I can’t think of a better way to explain the meal.
If you’re looking for a break from the fast casual experience, El Techo is a fine choice. And if you need some casual drunk food to follow up your drunk meal, Rito Loco is always downstairs.
El Techo is located at 606 Florida Ave NW. Their hours are 5 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 1:15 a.m. Friday through Saturday, and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.