Photo by Darrow Montgomery

The Woodridge neighborhood received some bad news late this year when the Mediterranean restaurant Nido closed at 2214 Rhode Island Ave. NE. But the story has a happy ending. Owners Karlos Leopold and Erin Lingle have already found a tenant and they’ll stay on as landlords. The newcomer is a Japanese restaurant from couple and business partners Masako Morishita and Andrew Chiou.

Morishita is a cheerleader for the Washington football team and a native of Kobe, Japan. She’s been fine-tuning her cooking skills through the catering company she operates with Chiou called M’s Kitchen. Chiou has more formal experience working in kitchens, including a stint at the former Shaw restaurant Table

The pair have been looking for spaces over the past year. When the already neatly appointed Nido fell into their laps, they were prepared to move quickly to open Momo Yakitori. The first floor of the restaurant will be a casual restaurant specializing in Japanese-style skewered chicken and vegetables, while the second floor will have the feel of a cocktail lounge.

Momo means thigh in Japanese. It’s one of the most popular parts of the chicken to order at yakitori restaurants, where food is grilled over binchotan charcoal. Chiou and Morishita plan to use these grills at Momo Yakitori and hope their restaurant feels like a place you could stumble upon on a side street in Japan.

Some Japanese pubs or izakayas opening in the U.S. have put creative spins on the sticks of meat and vegetables, but Momo Yakitori will focus on simply prepared high-quality ingredients according to Morishita. “The intention was go back to specializing in what we can do really well,” Chiou says. He is getting his chickens from a farmer in Virginia.

Customers will be able to order sets of yakitori, letting the kitchen plate what’s fresh. That could mean eating unfamiliar chicken parts like liver, heart, and neck. While yakitori translates to grilled chicken, there will also be a selection of seasonal grilled vegetables and Chiou is working on sourcing Wagyu beef and Berkshire pork. Small snacks like roasted peanuts dusted with tamari powder and cabbage with sesame dressing will round out the menu. 

Drinks will include Japanese beer, whisky high-balls, shochu, and wine. 

Chiou and Morishita will retain much of the Nido staff and areaiming for a Feb. 1 opening date. To do that, they need a little help and are attempting to raise $20,000 on a GoFundMe page. 

“In my mind the restaurant is very straight-forward,” Chiou says. “It’s not complicated. It’s not gimmicky.” 

“It’s not going to be high-end,” Morishita adds. “We are very casual people. We want to keep it like how we are.” 

Momo Yakitori, 2214 Rhode Island Ave. NE