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The team behind Barracks Row’sZest American Bistro is going a completely different direction with its next venture: a Mexican restaurant called Agua 301. The new spot, set to open Dec. 20, gets its name from its address: 301 Water St. SE on the Capitol Riverfront, right next to recently opened Osteria Morini.
Owners Amanda and Stephen Briggs have also announced a chef: Antonio Burrell, who helped open El Centro D.F. and Masa 14 and most recently worked at Redwood in Bethesda. One of his first cooking jobs happened to be at a Mexican restaurant in Fargo, N.D.
So, why Mexican? “While we were sitting and looking out at the water, we said, ‘What do we like to do when we go to the water?’ We like to sit back and, me in particular, have a margarita,” Stephen says. “One of the top foods that we love is Mexican food.”
The menu has a modern Mexican bent with a few less traditional touches (like a carne asada taco with kimchi). Burrell says you likely won’t see chile rellenos, fajitas, burritos, or enchiladas. But tacos? Of course: One of the dishes Burrell is most excited about is the taco al pastor, made with crispy fried pork belly rather than pork shoulder and a pineapple-habanero chutney instead of roasted pineapple. The other half-dozen tacos include beef cheek barbacoa and a squash and shiitake mushroom option with chilies, goat cheese, and pickled corn relish.
The menu also features some small plates like cactus “ceviche” tostadas and squash and veggie empanadas with pickled corn salsa. Burrell highlights the beef barbacoa flautas—-filled with short ribs, queso fundido cheese sauce, and caramelized onions—-that’s meant to be a play on a Philly cheesesteak. Large entrees range from pan-seared black bass with butternut squash, bacon, sweet potato hash, and cumin-scented orange agave butter to a sirloin steak with caramelized onions, tomato salsa, Mexican corn, yucca fries, and a chimichurri sauce.
Three guacamole options include traditional with Serrano chilies and tomato, crab and corn, and a rotating special of the day. Burrell says the special may include guacamole with pomegranate seeds or whatever else is on hand.
And let’s not forget those margaritas, which you’ll be able to enjoy on the 44-seat outdoor patio come spring. Agua 301 will serve two frozen margaritas—lime and another fruit flavor. The bar stash includes about 50 tequilas and a dozen mezcals, which guests will also have the option to mix into their margaritas on the rocks. Several other tequila- and mezcal-based cocktails will also be featured.
GrizForm Design Architects—the firm behind Doi Moi, Farmers Fishers Bakers, and Fiola—designed the Mexican landscape-inspired space, which is filled with stucco, (fake) cacti, and glass-blown lanterns. The engravings on the chocolate-colored walls are actually based on the map of the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan.
Agua 301 will be open for dinner to start, but lunch and brunch will follow in January. “I love brunch,” says Burrell, expressing a rare opinion among chefs. “The brunch we’re going to do here, much more than anything else that we do, it’s going to be rooted in tradition.” For example, instead of the Tex-Mex version of migas with scrambled eggs and tortillas chips, Burrell is going a more traditional route with a broth soup made with day-old bread, chorizo, and eggs.
“Everything we’re going to have is good for a hangover.”
Photo of Stephen Briggs, Amanda Briggs, and Antonio Burrell by Jessica Sidman