Isabella’s Pepita Opens in Ballston on July 30
Chef Mike Isabella’s newest restaurant, Pepita Cantina, is set to open July 30 at 4000 Wilson Blvd., in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington — the entrance is on North Qunicy Street — around the corner from his Kapnos Taverna and next to his forthcoming Japanese noodle bar with Jonah Kim, Yona.
Pepita is inspired by coastal Mexican cantinas with light wood tables, floors and bar stools. The walls are grey, black and yellow with a concrete topped bar fronted in white tiles. Seating includes chartreuse banquettes and yellow metal chairs. A feature wall includes a yellow, chartreuse and black marigold pattern.
Unlike Isabella’s other restaurants, Pepita is a tiny 1,300 square feet and more cocktail centric. It only has indoor seating for 32 and a partially-covered patio, which is expected to open Labor Day, will seat another 44 people.
Veteran bartender Taha Ismail, who created the bar programs Isabella’s other restaurants, will feature 100 tequilas and a dozen mezcals at Pepita. In addition to four flavors of margarita, which will be served by the glass or pitcher, there will be a selection of tequila and mescal cocktails and frozen drinks, as well as drinks on taps. There will be a selection of tiki drinks, a handful of flips and juleps and a long list of classic cocktails, from the daiquiri and the rickey to the Lion’s Tail and the Last Word, all made with fresh squeezed juices. Margaritas are $10 a glass or $40 a pitcher, while most cocktails are $11-$12. There is also 12 bottled and canned beers, as well as six wines.
Ismail’s bartender friends from around the country are also contributing their specialties , which will be presented on the menu with attribution and are meant to show off the best of the close-knit craft cocktail community while giving guests the opportunity to try a few modern classics without dipping into their airline miles.
There will be an all-day happy hour with food and drink specials that change every few hours. There will also be late-night food specials.
Corporate chef Adam Howard designed Pepita’s small menu of Mexican street food. About 15 dishes will be featured, including ceviche, Mexican-style corn on the cob, house-made salsas and guacamole, a salad of watermelon, jicama and cucumber; and a Caesar salad dressed with cotija cheese, pepitas and avocado. Mexican classics, including a trio of tacos, a torta, enchiladas and a mushroom quesadilla anchor the menu. There is also smoked short rib with grilled nopales and chili de arbol or whole grilled snapper with salsa Veracruz and chili-cabbage salad for the family served with corn tortillas, salsas and guacamole. Desserts include a Mexican tres leches and four frozen, boozy push-pops.
Chips and salsa range from $2-$11, tacos are $4-$5, entrees range from $8-$12, sides and salads range from $6-$14, family plates are $36 and $38 and desserts are $4.
Pepita will be open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.