Mexican Eateries Open in Silver Spring
Ambar owner Ivan Iricanin will open Tacos, Tortas & Tequila (TTT) and Buena Vida at 8407 Ramsey Ave, Silver Spring, on Friday in the former 8407 Kitchen Bar space directly across from the Ramsey Avenue entrance to the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center.
Iricanin first fell in love with Mexican food when he moved from Serbia to D.C. and traveled with former business partner and restaurateur Richard Sandoval while doing research for El Centro D.F. and Mesa 14. Now, he has brought executive sous chef Graham Bartlett, executive chef Terry Natas, general manager Steven Chiang and operating partner Robert Day from Sandovol’s restaurants to run his new Mexican brand, which is already preparing to open a second location at 2900 Wilson Blvd. in Clarendon, across the street from Ambar Clarendon in the from La Tasca space. It is expected to open later this fall.
The fast-casual downstairs taqueria TTT will serve a la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, while upstairs, Buena Vida will serve a more refined menu of a la carte small plates with a $35 all-you-can-eat Latin Experience option for lunch and dinner.
HapstakDemetriou+ designed both spaces. Both floors are flooded with light from floor-to-ceiling windows. Both also feature white walls, white-washed brick, white exposed ceilings and light woods. The 1,500-square-foot TTT seats 50 at few high-top tables with stools in the main dining room and on white, blue and yellow banquettes ad stools at low tables in a side room. Eventually, TTT will get a mosaic tile floor and the black-and-white bathrooms will get colorful paintings from a local artist. A side patio will eventually seat 12 and features a mural from Brooklyn-based graffiti artist and Mexican Marka27.
The 3,700-square-foot Buena Vida features golds, whites and blues and seats 150 on rattan and white metal chairs and gold banquettes in the dining room and another 10 on stools at the bar. It also includes basket pendant lighting and a mural on the back wall painted with tropical foliage. There is also a rack designed to hold 720 bottles of tequila and wine in one corner.
Bartlett said fresh corn tortillas will be made daily from ground corn meal for both restaurants and the telera (bread for the Mexican sandwiches) will come from a local Mexican bakery.
Tacos, Tortas & Tequila
Downstairs, the menu is designed to be casual grab-and-go as commuters head to the Metro or workers grab breakfast or lunch on the way to nearby offices, although a few seats are available if you want to eat in. Diners will check their choices on checklist menus and hand them to their server to speed things along.
The TTT menu includes appetizers of guacamole with warm tortilla chips, rice and black beans, corn esquites, chips and salsa, and potato and cheese taquitos priced from $2.50-$8. There are also a dozen tacos from pork al pastor to crispy local skate and beef tongue to grilled mahi mahi priced from $2.50-$4, along with ahi tuna and shrimp and crab tosatadas priced from $6-$7, chicken or cheese quesadillas priced from $7-$8, and tortas including chopped ribeye with avocado, fried chicken, hamburger and Cubana priced from $9-$13. Drinks include four flavors of house-made aqua fresca priced at $4 and four kinds of milkshakes priced at $7.
Breakfast at TTT includes appetizers, fried eggs and cheese or shredded chicken and cheese toastadas, three kinds of quesadillas with eggs and breakfast potatoes, five breakfast tacos and four breakfast tortas priced from $2.50-$9. There are also heartier breakfasts like huevos rancheros with fried eggs, tortillas, avocado, panela cheese and potatoes; huevos con papa surtida with fried eggs, bacon or chorizo, potatoes, chtija cheese and guacamole; chilaquiles with carnitas or chicken, a fried egg and cotija and Oaxaca cheese and either red or green salsa all priced from $9-$12. There will also be Colombe coffee.
From May 4-14, TTT will be serving $1 tacos and $5 TTT margaritas.
At Buena Vida, there is a more expansive small plates menu that are meant to be shared so that diners can try several. “We want to change how people think about Mexican food,” Bartlett said. “Instead of filling up on guacamole and a big portion of enchiladas, they can try several small plates.” The bottomless option is the best value for that since tables can sample a limitless number of guacamoles, ceviches, starers, plates, tacos and tapas-style entrees.
The upstairs menu includes three kinds of guacamole priced from $10-$12, two soups priced from $6-$8 and five salads priced from $5-$7 including a melon salad with honeydew and cantaloupe, frissee, ham, queso requeson chamoy, mint and cilantro.
Starters, which are priced from $5-$10, include shishitos toreados, queso fundido with roasted mushroom chipotle and apricot chutney, sweet corn empanadas, potato and cheese flautas and fried green tomatillos. Ceviche and raw bar items, priced from $7-$12, include heirloom tomato ceviche, chilled scallop and avocado en escabeche, local shrimp ceviche, spiced tuna and watermelon, and mezcal cured organic salmon tostada. The 11 tacos run from $3-$12 and include many of the same from TTT along with wild caught Chesapeake catfish, fried North Carolina shrimp, duck carnitas, beef tongue, mushroom and crispy tofu. Finally, the little larger chef’s creations priced from $8-$13 include mushroom and corn enchiladas, a ribeye steak fajita, pork tenderloin with mole, roasted chicken adobado, shrimp and crab enchiladas, and albondigas mariscadas, seafood meatballs made with lobster, crab and shrimp broiled in butter and served with charred salsa verde and pickled chile.
Buena Vida’s dishes are available a la carte or as an all-you-can-eat Latin Experience for $19.99 during lunch and $35 during dinner. However, for the first 10 days (until May 14) the Latin experience is $12 during lunch and $20 during dinner.
The drink menu at both includes Mexican sodas including Coca-Cola and fruit sodas, non-alcoholic agua frescas, three house wines, Mexican beers and mixed drinks with emphasis on tequila and mezcal.
TTT’s breakfast, lunch and dinner, and drink menus by clicking on the menu. Buena Vida’s lunch and dinner menu is here. Buena Vida did not supply a drink menu.
For the first weekend, both restaurants will open at 11 a.m. Beginning May 7, TTT will be open from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Buena Vida will be open from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch Monday through Friday and for dinner from 4-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Unlimited brunch will begin on May 12 and be served weekends from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. upstairs. Happy hour is from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday throughout at TTT and at the Buena Vida bar with $5 drinks.
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.