Photos courtesy The Royal

When The Royal netted a Bib Gourmand from Michelin in October, it raised some eyebrows. Not because the arepas aren’t top notch, but because the Ledroit Park hang has been more cafe-by-day and bar-by-night than full-service restaurant. For context, it shared the honor with Kyirisan, Doi Moi, Zaytinya, Bad Saint, and others.

Coming up on its second anniversary this summer, The Royal just hooked its most experienced chef to date—someone who might be able to assuage the skeptics. Chef Cable Smith most recently cooked under Chef Jennifer Carroll as chef de cuisine at Requin in Mosaic District, but his resume includes stops in food cities like Austin and Atlanta. He helped Richard Blais open HD1 in Atlanta where he also worked at Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South before moving to Austin to be the chef de cuisine at Ned Elliott’s Foreign & Domestic.

Smith says he was attracted to The Royal because of its “good, honest food” and he has accepted the challenge of surprising diners in a bar-like setting. “You walk in and it’s this cool little hip place,” he says. “We want people to be wowed when their food hits the table … great food with great ingredients that put people back in their chairs a little.” He quips that he’s had enough greasy bar food that comes in baskets. 

Fried pork belly

Smith has already put his spin on The Royal’s dinner menu and his goal has been to incorporate at least one ingredient that’s kissed the restaurant’s wood-fired grill into each dish. Highlights include a chilled corn soup with shrimp ceviche and spiced popcorn served with Colombian cheesy bread ($9) and fried pork belly served with Salvadorian street corn, picante dulce, ember-roasted leeks, and pickled onions ($13).

Fried chicken fanboys have a new place to check out because Smith is serving a panko-breaded fried chicken sandwich with jalapeño aioli, Colombian B&B pickles, pickled fresno chilies, and grilled slaw on a toasted brioche bun ($16).

In addition to these small plates, Smith is introducing some large-format entrees including a whole grilled branzino ($25) and a whole roasted chicken ($35), both served with side dishes.

Smith is also ushering in a late night menu (Sun-Thurs 10 p.m.-close, Fri-Sat 11 p.m.-close) starring Colombian-style tamales, a dessert menu, and happy hour food specials like fries drizzled with aji amarillo mayo and ketchup ($5). 

Like the chefs who came before him at The Royal, Smith has been consulting with the family behind the restaurant. Paul Carlson‘s mother is Colombian, and he and his sister Katrina Carlson grew up in several Latin American countries due to their father’s foreign service career. “They’re already like my family,” Smith says. “They come in and check on me to see if I need anything, and even gave me a ton of books to get ideas.” 

Smith has some experience with Latin American ingredients. He grew up in New Mexico and his father traveled frequently to Guadalajara, Mexico. He says he made tamales and tortillas as a kid.

Many of Smith’s mentors have Top Chef ties including Carroll, Blais, and Acheson. Is that in the cards for Smith? “My girlfriend really wants me to,” he says. “It might be fun but Richard [Blais] told me it’s the most stressful thing ever. I’m sure it is.”

The Royal, 501 Florida Ave. NW; (202) 332-7777; theroyaldc.com