The team behind Espita is opening two restaurants inside La Cosecha this month. Diners will find Las Gemelas Taqueria on one side of the Latin market and Las Gemelas Cocina Mexicana on the other. The name, which means twin girls, is inspired by masa queen Yesenia Neri-Diaz’s young daughters. With the launch of the new restaurants, the growing hospitality group has named tortillera Neri-Diaz and longtime butcher Rogelio Garcia as business partners.
“The definition of being a successful business is providing places to grow into,” says partner Josh Phillips. “You want to reward people who work hard for you and contribute. Espita wouldn’t be what it is without either one. When we were talking about doing Las Gemelas, we needed Rogelio and Yesi. If they’re that essential, why are they not partners in the company?”
Phillips has two goals for both restaurants—keep them fun and affordable. When it comes to food, tacos at the taqueria top out at $5.50 for barbacoa and no dish at the cocina will cost more than $20. Drinks too. “I’ve been raging for a long time about the $15 cocktail,” he says. “It needs to die a painful death.”
When it opens March 15, the small taqueria will be open from 7:30 a.m. daily to as late as possible in the evening. Try breakfast tacos, churros, and $2 Counter Culture drip coffee until 10:30 a.m. when an all-day menu becomes available featuring a tight menu of six tacos, chips and salsa, quesadillas, tlayudas, and desserts. Phillips recommends the lengua y cachete (tongue and cheek) taco or the carnitas taco with pickled cabbage and beets.
Drinks include a $9 margarita, canned wine, Mexican beer, and a frozen “chagroni” that blends tequila, chamoy (a salty, sweet, sour, and spiced Mexican condiment made with pickled fruit), vermouth, and an aperitivo for $11.
Phillips also believes the soft serve ice cream will be a memorable dessert. Customers can choose dulce de leche, milk chocolate, or a swirl of the two flavors. The restaurant finishes the soft serve with chocolate sauce made from mole negro and crunchy bits of tostada. Phillips and Rob Aikens, the company’s executive chef, found themselves dunking tortillas in melted chocolate ice cream late at night at Espita and loved the results. They liken it to dipping a fry into ice cream.
The open-kitchen taqueria has seating for 24 inside, plus a handful of outdoor tables and seats along a rail. Takeout from a pick-up window and delivery will be available. Customers can also stock up on fresh tortillas, salsas, moles, chamoy, and sodas from a small retail area.
Phillips hopes Las Gemelas Cocina Mexicana will open a week after the taqueria. The focus there will be on seafood dishes you’d sample in beach towns in southern Mexico paired with cocktails and Mexican wines from James Simpson and Jose Cox.
Highlights from the opening lunch and dinner menu, under the guidance of Chef de Cuisine Ben Tenner, include mussels in a creamy chipotle broth, a salmon crudo-topped tostada, and tuna aguachile with beets, orange, lime, and fresno chiles. The latter is similar to ceviche.
Pair the dishes with cocktails that cost $12 or less such as a Calibre with rye, vermouth, nitro coffee, and amaro or a take on a mojito called Pitaya with dragon fruit, mint, lime oleo, and a spirit similar to rum called charanda. “When most people think of Mexican bar, it’s a tequila or agave bar,” Phillips explains. “But we want this to feel like you’re going to a bar in Mexico, not a Mexican bar in America.”
The bars Phillips has frequented on trips to Mexico serve cocktails that utilize local produce and ingredients but don’t always center agave spirits. You’ll find gin, bourbon, whiskey, and vodka just as readily, he says.
Las Gemelas Cocina Mexicana may soon have the longest happy hour in the city, with discounts offered from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. At 4 p.m. each day, they’ll set out a punch that will be $4 a glass until the bowl empties.
Keeping with things Washingtonians love, the cocina will offer brunch seven days a week from 9 a.m. to noon. The food menu zeroes in on fancy toasts. Phillips recommends first-time diners try the carrot and turmeric hummus toast with pickled carrots and smoked cashews.
The chefs have also been recipe testing a signature egg dish. Tortillas will arrive at the table filled with sunny side up eggs coated in mole negro with sesame seeds and avocado. Finally, just for fun, they’re making cereal. The grain mixture is studded with dried fruits and served with house-made strawberry oat milk. Try these dishes with hot or cold draft nitro coffee from Chyrus.
When at full capacity after the pandemic, the cocina will have 60 seats—19 at the bar, 20 in the dining room, and another 21 outside. Only nine tables will be available for reservations, with the rest set aside for for walk-in guests.
Phillips and his whole team, including his wife Kelly, who serves as the general manager, are enjoying being a part of the Latin market that was slow to get off the ground. It’s closer to being in full swing now.
“This year I’ve gotten to know everyone who works here and owns businesses,” Phillips says. “They’re hard-working amazing people that are trying to show off something badass. To me, opening there is being part of a community.”
Las Gemelas inside La Cosecha, 1280 4th St. NE; (202) 866-0550; lasgemelasdc.com