Taco trio photo by Laura Hayes

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At long last, the creators of Chaia are branching out. Founders Suzanne Simon and Bettina Stern will open a second location of their popular vegetarian taco restaurant in Mount Vernon Triangle later this year at 615 I Street NW. 

D.C. got its first taste of Chaia’s flavorful tacos at area farmers markets in 2013. The first brick-and-mortar location opened in Georgetown in 2015 and hooked customers with flavors like creamy kale and potato with pepper jack cheese, poblano crema, green sauce, and pickled onions ($4) and butternut squash with goat cheese, caramelized onions, chipotle yogurt, and mint ($4). Most diners order a taco trio for $12. Sides like black beans with jalapeño crema ($4) complete a meal. 

The smell of fresh corn is the first things you notice when you enter the existing fast-casual restaurant on Grace Street NW. That’s because every few minutes, staff members slap freshly made tortillas on the griddle so they’re always warm. Chaia is focused on sustainability, local sourcing, wellness, and from-scratch cooking. Their drinks—ranging from seasonal shrubs ($4) and cold-pressed juices ($6) to Vigilante coffee—follow the same script. 

When the 2,000-square-foot eatery, being designed by Gensler Associates, opens in Mount Vernon Triangle it will have 35 seats and expanded hours and offerings. It will open early to serve breakfast tacos on weekends and possibly a small menu of grab-and-go healthy choices for commuters on weekday mornings. They’ll also roll out a menu of seasonal cocktails to compliment the beer and wine selections. 

“We really feel like we’re going into a fantastic neighborhood,” Stern says. She adds that she thinks the location screams for boozy drinks. “We plan to hopefully get a well known mixologist to help us come up with a couple craft cocktails.” 

Plant-based dining is on the rise in D.C. H Street NE just added Fancy Radish to its portfolio of thriving vegan restaurants. And non-vegan restaurants such as Chloe, Maydan, RASA, Bresca, and CHIKO are making room for vegetables to share the stage with meat and seafood. 

“I’m not trying to tell you not to do other things that may not be as good for you, but I do want you to eat your vegetables,” Stern says. “With a change of diet and people realizing eating plants is better for the holistic picture of people and planet, we have to make vegetables a priority.”

She calls vegetables a luxury because they take a lot of elbow grease to prepare. “They are the most labor intensive part of a kitchen, no matter what,” Stern stays. “They come in and need to be washed, peeled, chopped, sliced, and cooked the right way to bring out delicious flavor. It’s not like a piece of steak that only needs salt.” 

Stern is targeting a fall opening and already has more locations in mind. “We are aiming for more,” she says. “This model is meant for growth.”

Get a sense of the menu here.

Chaia, 615 I St. NW; chaiadc.com