Street Guys Hospitality, the group behind Ambar and BABA, will soon dominate a busy corner on Wilson Boulevard in Clarendon with new Mexican restaurants opening this fall opposite their existing Balkan spots.
The space formerly occupied by La Tasca will become Tacos, Tortas & Tequila (TTT), Buena Vida and eventually a rooftop Mexican beer garden called Up. “It’s a complex project, but we’re enjoying it,” says Ivan Iricanin, founder and CEO of the restaurant group.
“I like to showcase different traditions, different cuisines,” the Serbian-born restaurateur adds. “We want to showcase what we love about Mexico.”
Iricanin and his partners, Director of Operations Rob Day and Chef de cuisine Graham Bartlett, have strong connections to Mexico because of their experience working with Richard Sandoval Restaurants and traveling around the country.
The team is currently in the midst of opening locations of TTT and Buena Vida in Silver Spring this month. Next up: recreating these concepts in Clarendon.
Extensive renovations are underway to transform the building into three distinct spaces. “You’re not going to recognize it,” Iricanin promises. To start, the main entrance will be moved to Wilson and it will have staircases and elevators to direct guests to each of the concepts: TTT on the first floor, Buena Vida upstairs and Up on the roof. The central staircase will be removed and the space will be closed off, creating separate floors. What is currently the mezzanine will become a private space for TTT. Buena Vida will also have limited seating on the balcony.
At street level, TTT will be a traditional Mexican eatery serving tacos and tortas. “It’s almost like a full-service restaurant, but it’s going to have value as fast casual,” Iricanin explains. Tacos will range from $2.50 to $4 each and tortas will be $7 to $12.
A long open kitchen will occupy the back wall of the space, with a tortilla maker imported from Mexico, a juice bar for cold-pressed juices and a dessert station. The menu will focus on classic street food made according to traditional recipes. “We’re not inventing anything,” Bartlett says. The signature taco will be pork al pastor—marinated pork neck seasoned with achiote, adobo and orange and slow-roasted on a spit. All tacos will be served on house-made corn tortillas, with fillings like fried fish and braised beef tongue.
TTT will be open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “Our idea is that this corner … becomes a place where you can come any time during the day, seven days a week and you can have good food,” Iricanin says.
The downstairs bar will serve classic Mexican cocktails featuring agave spirits, as well as aguas frescas, Mexican beer, La Colombe coffee and milkshakes. The space will have garage doors that open up to the wrap-around street-side patio. TTT will also have a pickup window on North Fillmore Street that will stay open with a condensed menu for late night service after the restaurant closes.
Upstairs, Buena Vida will take after Ambar with small plates and a $35 all-you-can-eat offering. The dishes will lean contemporary and draw inspiration from cuisine various regions of Mexico. “What we want to do is we want to do it our way, which we believe is going to be very unique and very different,” Iricanin says. “We would like to make this dining experience like a fiesta. The idea is that you can try six or seven different dishes and six or seven different textures and flavors.”
Signature dishes at Buena Vida include sopes with chilorio-style pork shoulder, black bean sauce, guacamole and cabbage slaw, as well as flautas filled with potato purée, poblano strips and melted Oaxaca cheese. The Buena Vida bar will feature Spanish and South American wines, Mexican beers and a variety of tequilas and mezcals available in tasting flights.
As with Ambar and BABA, ingredients will be organic and sourced from local farms whenever possible. Bartlett plans to experiment with local ingredients prepared in traditional Mexican styles.
Both spaces are being designed by HapstakDemetriou+ and will be warm and tropical. TTT will be casual and urban with industrial touches, while Buena Vida will have a baja feel with plenty of greenery and bright hues.
TTT and Buena Vida are projected to open this fall, with a target month of October. The rooftop Mexican beer garden, Up, will open in 2019.