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“It’s not a taqueria,” says Ian Hilton of the new “Mexican beer garden” El Rey. “But we’re going to focus on tacos.”
The not-taqueria from Ian and his brother Eric Hilton, who also own places like The Brixton, Satellite Room, and Marvin, opens today at 9th and U streets NW, serving at least nine varieties of tacos from a building made out of repurposed shipping containers. There’s even a takeout window to grab some tacos-to-go from the street.
“We want to do tacos well, but we don’t want to get pigeonholed. We don’t want to get into a battle of who’s got the best tacos,” Ian Hilton says, explaining why they’re not using the term taqueria. “Whatever we do, I hope it’s the best,” he adds in the next breath. “But we want to be able to do other things that work well, that people like to eat.”
About those tacos: Chef Jorge Pimentel, who also oversees The Brixton, emphasizes that all of his sauces and salsas are made from scratch. So are the corn and flour tortillas, which are produced according to Pimentel’s recipes by La Jarochita Bakery in Hyattsville. Eventually, Pimentel would like to add honey wheat, habanero, black bean, and purple corn tortillas as well.
Pimentel says his favorite tacos are the carnitas tacos and grilled fish tacos with jicama carrot salad, tomatillo avocado, and chipotle aioli. Daily taco specials will offer something a little more experimental. All tacos are $3 to $4. “Substitutions politely declined,” the menu reads. The limited nontaco options include three types of tamales, elote corn on the cob, ceviche, and churros for dessert.
On-the-rocks or frozen margaritas will be available by the glass ($8) or by the pitcher ($40). While only lime is available to start, passionfruit and blueberry margaritas are in the works. Red and white sangrias with hard booze are also available by the pitcher. Beverage Director Brandon Murphy says the restaurant has about 40 tequilas and a dozen mezcals, some of which make their way into a small cocktail menu. A handful of Mexican beers are also available.
The space itself is constructed out of old shipping containers. The containers came from Paxton Van Lines, whose owner is a longtime friend of the Hiltons and happens to be a minority investor in their restaurants. Ian says his brother Eric was inspired by a bar in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, made out of shipping containers (and not, it turns out, season 2 of The Wire). A patio in the back is covered by a retractable glass roof. In the winter, heaters will keep things warm.
The not-taqueria will be dinner-only until at least the spring, and if there’s enough foot traffic they may open during lunch hours.
As for whether the restaurant group’s spurt of openings over the past couple years will continue?
“I think this is it for the time being, and then some,” Hilton says.
Check out more photos and the full menu below.