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Taco fans will still have to wait another two months or so before Troy Hickman’s first full restaurant venture, Impala Cantina, officially opens on H St. NE. But leading up to its January debut, Hickman is allowing customers to get their taco fix at a late-night stand in the courtyard adjacent to the nearly completed restaurant. The taco stand is open on Saturdays from 8 p.m. until 3 or 4 a.m.
The restaurant, located at 1358 H St. NE, has been in the works since 2010, but Hickman and his two business partners—chef George Grau and general manager Ian Holp—have been bogged down with permitting issues. The space itself is mostly complete at this point, Hickman explains, with a rooftop deck the only project that remains in the old row house’s overhaul.
Impala’s completely renovated first floor will be dominated by a wall-to-wall bar, while the second floor has a more “intimate” feel, Hickman says, with booths and chandeliers.
“The main inspiration for the menu is just food that I grew up eating with my family in northern Mexico,” Hickman explains, noting that Impala will stay true to “authentic” Mexican cuisine rather than Tex-Mex or Mexican fusion. “We pull some dishes from the southern part of Mexico, but the guiding force behind the menu is very rustic, kind of northern Mexican food.”
That whole menu isn’t available in the courtyard on Saturdays. But one offering that has already created some buzz in the lead-up to Impala Cantina’s opening is the “Impaloca,” the restaurant’s variation on the Frito pie. Hickman calls the Impaloca—a bag of chips mixed in with meat, cheese, beans, and pico de gallo—the perfect late-night food. It’s also served at the Pug on Tuesday nights.
Impala Cantina will eventually trade out its courtyard service for a more regular side window at the restaurant. Hickman has already waited quite a while, and he isn’t planning on getting impatient now.
“We’re already a year late, and then rushing to get it open doesn’t make sense to me,” he says. “It’s been a long time in the making, but hopefully with the extra time, we’ll be able to make it better than it ever would’ve been before.”
Photo courtesy Impala Cantina