Steak and pork belly fajita fillings Credit: Laura Hayes

So many meals these days feel like they were plated using chef tweezers—picture a three-bite crudo adorned with micro basil. The antidote to feather-light, fussy food is at Republic Cantina, where hearty dishes land on tables with a pleasing thud. 

The Truxton Circle Tex-Mex newcomer that doesn’t shy away from cactus decor opened last month serving breakfast tacos. They also currently offer dinner in “preview” mode, meaning the restaurant is eager for guest feedback as it gradually expands the dishes and drinks on its evening menu. 

For someone whose only memory of fajitas was the occasional mother-daughter trip to Houlihan’s growing up, trying the dish famous for its sizzle at Republic Cantina was like seeing Lizzo‘sTiny Desk concert instead of merely listening to the star on Spotify. Diners can mix and match fajita fillings, some of which have a modern touch. Steak, for example, is marinated in Korean gochujang while shrimp come coated in Old Bay-boosted butter.

Let the steam coming off the skillet fog up your Instagram story before digging in to a spread that also includes warm flour tortillas, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. After enough time has passed, the Oaxaca cheese that forms the base of the pan will start to crisp up much like the rice at the bottom of a paella. Tell yourself you deserve it as you ply the hardened cheese from the bottom of the pan using your fingers. Hoard it from your fellow diners.

The fajitas pair well with the restaurant’s mezcal- and tequila-based cocktails, especially the frozen margarita that Republic Cantina served for the first time Thursday night. Also make sure to kick off every meal with Tex-Mex liquid gold known as queso. A gussied up version has morsels of meat, guacamole, and salsa incorporated into the gooey cheese that stays melty for almost an hour. 

Republic Cantina is from partners Sam Lipnick and Chris Svetlik. D.C. first got know to Svetlik, a Texas native, through his business Republic Kolache. Reservations for the preview dinners are available on Resy.

Republic Cantina, 43 N St. NW; (202) 997-4340; republic-cantina.com

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