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SUMMER RULES is a series where we ask people to share with us how they’re staying safe and sane during this very different summer season; from mask suggestions to soundtrack selections, we’ll take a peek into how others are making these challenging times work.

Today we check in with Kelly Phillips, Co-Owner and Assistant General Manager at Espita, to find out how she’s been keeping her cool (funnily enough, the strategy partly involves chiles):

How do you usually feel about summer, as a season overall, and how do you feel about THIS summer, by comparison?

Summer has always felt like a time for transformation. It’s a creative season and one that encourages rest and play. This particular summer has held a lot of tension as we go through daily trauma and unrest.  We’re all learning how to soothe ourselves, and the opportunity for growth and change feels big. I’m hopeful despite everything.

What is your summer shaping up to look like?

I’m still working, but my job has changed completely. I am doing a lot of work behind the scenes reinventing our operations and strengthening our mission. We launched a pop-up this summer at La Cosecha, so I divide my time between the two locations. I want to be sure we are serving our community in the best and safest ways possible. How can we give people creature comforts and little joys? How many jobs can we provide? How efficient can we be and still do these things and make it through this? Adapt, survive, and move forward.

Is there anything in particular you’re actually looking forward to this summer?

Accepting solitude. In the “Beforetimes”, allowing myself a moment alone was such a rare treat. I felt guilty when I was not feeling particularly social on my days off. As a restaurant owner you are always expected to be “on” and hosting. This summer I am giving myself the time to be off and understanding how okay that is. My quiet will end soon though, as we are welcoming a second dog (a French bulldog puppy) into our home in a few weeks.

What are some of your tips for staying safe and sane right now? 

Find comfort in the mundane. Small tasks and routines like making the bed, caring for plants, the ritual of pour over coffee, are the ultimate form of self-care for me. That, and limited screen time. No phones in the bedroom ever and certainly not after dark.

Sometimes when I’m stressed and at my limit I turn to haiku. So if I’m stuck in an Uber in heavy traffic and late for a meeting, I create a haiku about it. It gives me something with structure to focus on.

Go-to summer wellness practice advice? Any spots in particular that have been helping you on that front?

Nature heals. I recently discovered the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and felt so at peace there. My husband and I have an electric motorcycle, so we often go for a ride to escape. I do love dining outdoors and think food tastes better outside. I had such a relaxing experience on the Bammy’s patio and the food was pure sunshine.

Where did you get your mask from? And what, aside from that, has been your more or less go-to summer uniform?

I’ve tried so many masks at this point.  My favorite is from Kes NYC, it’s silk and sustainably made, it’s quite breathable and I often forget I’m wearing it. My uniform has been long flowy dresses and my Artesano straw hat from Panama. I admire the statement of a hat and the way it makes you feel.

What are you reading right now, and why do you recommend it? (Or if you’re not reading anything, do you have a favorite book you want to share?)

I almost read Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan in one sitting. It encapsulates the indecisiveness and longing of your 20s in a very refreshing way. Dolan’s voice stirs me.

Do you have a go-to summer hang-out recipe that still works for a socially distanced gathering? And/or just a favorite general summer recipe that’s still a go-to, even now?

No one is ever mad at you for showing up with homemade salsa. The truth is it’s not difficult to make, it’s just toasting some ingredients and blending, but everyone thinks you went all out. The hard part is finding all of the chiles (I recommend ordering online from thechileguy.com). Salsa Macha has been our hit of the summer at Espita. It has so much depth.

Salsa Macha:

150g sesame seeds toasted
150g whole crushed almonds toasted
150g whole peanuts crushed and toasted
4g chile de árbol
15g pasilla Oaxaca toasted and then soaked
12 each guajillo chili toasted and then soaked
8 each pasilla chili toasted and then soaked
100g chopped and fried garlic
300ml peanut oil
100ml sesame oil
200ml neutral vegetable oil
30g salt
50g sherry wine vinegar
50g lime juice

Toast the nuts and seeds, then blend everything. Season with chile and salt to taste.

What about a great summer cocktail or mocktail recipe?

We have a watermelon mint agua fresca at Espita that I love to mix with lime and tequila and top with Topo Chico. It’s low ABV and puts me on vacation.

What’s on your summer playlist this year, or are there three songs that are permanent summer favorites for you?

Wildfires – SAULT
Dune – Kikagaku Moyo
Invocacion – Nicola Cruz

Where do you wish you COULD GO this summer, if there were no restrictions or safety risks?

I am planning a trip to Portugal for when this is over, and after that I want to go to Japan.  

And is there anywhere you’ve been safely going that you could recommend for people who live nearby? Any day trips or local spots worth mentioning, for example?

The Arboretum is such a healing place, and very safe to visit right now. Everywhere will still be there next year. For now, we dream and imagine. You can be in Mexico with the right chiles and good mezcal.


Espita is open and taking reservations! Find safety guidelines here. Alternatively, you can always order food to-go for pick-up or delivery.

Sunday – Thursday Dinner : 4PM – 9:00PM
Friday – Saturday Dinner: 4PM – 10:00PM
Saturday – Sunday Brunch: 11AM – 4:00PM
Happy Hour: Until 6pm Every Day

Featured photo by Leah Judson