City Paper is not for tourists
“I don’t want to live in a Washington with no good breakfast tacos,” says Thamee co-owner Simone Jacobson. “It’s personal to me having grown up in the Southwest. The first time I had La Tejana’s tacos at Room 11, I had six.”
But Jacobson isn’t bringing La Tejana into her restaurant simply because she has a hankering for a taste of home. The move is part of Thamee’s ongoing efforts to have “deep, intentional partnerships” with Black and Brown makers. “White owners, chefs, and institutions are systematically and strategically prioritized,” says Jacobson, who owns the restaurant with her mother, Chef Jocelyn Law-Yone. “Rather than waiting, we’re giving them a seat at the table.”
Jaramillo, who moved to D.C. two years ago, is first generation Colombian American and grew up in the small Texas border town of McAllen, where breakfast tacos are comfort food currency. She went to a 98 percent Mexican-American school growing up and was once reprimanded for truancy because of her obsession with the Rio Grande Valley’s signature dish.
“My first period home economics teacher said as long as I brought her breakfast tacos, I could skip half of the period,” Jaramillo says. “I would bribe the security guard to be able to park at school and also bribe my home-ec teacher … The security guard eventually came to house and said, ‘Your daughter been absent 67 times.’ It’s breakfast tacos, it’s a way of life.” Jaramillo jokes that “the Rio Grande Valley invented the breakfast taco, San Antonio perfected it, and Austin took credit for it.”
“Most people on the whole East Coast, especially D.C., have not had a breakfast taco unless they’ve been to Texas,” says May, who grew up in Takoma Park. There are other places serving breakfast tacos in the District, including Republic Cantina and District Taco. “We want to be the ambassador of this food. We see ourselves trying to pay homage to classic breakfast tacos Ana grew up eating.”
La Tejana started on a stoop in October 2019. May and Jaramillo made 100 tacos and handed them out to friends and neighbors. As they got their footing, they went on to do pop-ups at Room 11 and 3 Stars Brewing Company. More pop-ups were planned before COVID-19 hit. Now they’ll have a semi-permanent weekly home at Thamee, which was just named one of the best new restaurants in America by Food & Wine. Eventually they’d like to open a restaurant.
“Thamee is such an openly progressive and radical place in terms of their willingness to take a stand on issues and lift up Black and Brown entrepreneurs in the food business,” May says. “This moment over the past four to six weeks tore the lid off of simmering resentment in the service industry around race and how a lot of businesses are complacent in systemic issues we need to address. Thamee represents what is possible in terms of empowering and lifting up people who may not have opportunities.”
There’s a minimum of three tacos and a maximum of 15 tacos per order, priced at $4 each. El Clásico is filled with bacon, scrambled eggs, and cheese; Súper Migas comes with scrambled eggs, jalapeño, onion, tomato, crispy tortilla strips, and a queso drizzle; and Señor Papa features scrambled eggs, crispy potatoes, and cheese. Tacos come with two free salsas—cilantro crema and charred tomato salsa. None of the tacos can be made vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free for the time being. The tortillas contain lard. La Tejana is sourcing eggs from Black-owned Sylvanaqua Farms.
During La Tejana’s pop-up hours, coffee from Nguyen Coffee Supply and tea from Kolkata Chai Co. will be available. Both are Asian-American owned businesses based in Brooklyn, New York.
The La Tejana pop-up is just one facet of Thamee’s new “Sunday Service” launching this weekend. Later in the afternoon and evening, the restaurant will serve a Burmese fried chicken set for $25 per person for take-out only. The double-fried quarter chicken comes dry-rubbed with turmeric, onion, garlic, and ginger; a choice of jasmine rice or fried rice studded with Chinese sausage; a choice between lahpet thoke (pickled tea leaf salad) or slaw; and a Burmese semolina cake with coconut creme and pineapple flower that Thamee made for the ongoing Bakers Against Racism fundraiser. Orders will be available for pickup from 4 to 7:30 p.m.
Later on in the evening, beverage director Richard Sterling will mix creative to-go cocktails like the Tamarind Punch with a house rum blend, amaretto, lime, tamarind, jaggery, and a warm spice mix. Cocktails are $15 for one, $28 for two, and $50 for four. Customers can also pair their fried chicken sets with house ginger beer or West-African inspired beer from Black-owned Sankofa Beer Company. The brewery launched in D.C. in 2018 and Jacobson says their HYPEbiscus Hibiscus Pale Ale pairs well with Burmese food.
Sunday Service marks the first time Thamee is reopening to the public for take-out following the start of the pandemic in March. They have used their kitchen to produce meals for relief organization World Central Kitchen and restaurateur Erik Bruner-Yang’s Power of 10 Initiative. They made 3,000 meals for Unity Health Care workers at the D.C. jail. Jacobson has taught yoga there.
Jacobson says her restaurant has declined to reopen in phases one and two to avoid potentially having to stop and start if there’s another COVID-19 spike locally.
Sunday Service orders can be placed online.
Sunday Service at Thamee, 1320 H St. NE; (202) 750-6529; thamee.com