Chef Mike Isabella Opens Booze-Centric Mexican Eatery in Ballston Today


The last time Mike Isabella ventured into Mexican food it didn't go so swell. Bandolero—the Georgetown restaurant from which the chef split two years ago—was plagued by middling reviews and a messy legal dispute between the landlord and the owners. (Not to mention more recent, post-Isabella era allegations of sex crimes by employees.) But just over a week after Bandolero closed, Isabella is opening a new Mexican restaurant called Pepita in Ballston. This time, the operation is all his own.

Pepita is Isabella's first restaurant where the cocktail menu is longer than the food one. Taha Ismail, the beverage director for Isabella's establishments, has concocted a menu with more than 50 drinks, including margaritas, frozen cocktails, punches, tiki drinks, and classics. The tequila and mezcal-heavy list includes four varieties of margaritas available by the glass ($10) or pitcher ($40), including one with cantaloupe, mezcal, ginger, agave, lime, and cucumber.

The restaurant will also have a happy hour that rotates throughout the day, all day, ending with a bottle of Tecate and a shot of tequila in the last hour of the night.

Chef Adam Howard will oversee the "coastal Mexican cantina" small plates menu. Aside from salsa and guacamole for your chips, there's also a dip with pumpkin seeds, jalapeno, and orange zest—the same ingredients in the signature "sikil pak" at Bandolero. (It's labeled "pipian" at Pepita.) Other dishes include ceviche, tacos, a barbacoa lamb torta, and a watermelon, jicama, cucumber salad. There are also a couple of larger family-style plates like smoked short rib with grilled cactus or whole grilled snapper.

The restaurant is located just next to two other Isabella restaurants: Kapnos Taverna and forthcoming Yona. The colorful 32-seat space (with 44-seat patio coming soon) is decorated with yellow and green furniture and floral patterns. In other words, it's a far cry from the Day of the Dead look of Bandolero, which Post critic Tom Sietsema once described as "one of the grimmest restaurants to open in years."

Pepita, 4000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; (703) 312-0200;

Photo by Greg Powers