3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007

Bar opens at 4pm Monday – Wednesday
Dinner service begins at 5pm.

4pm – 10pm

4pm – 11pm

12pm – 11pm
bar and until 12am

12pm – 10pm

Mike Isabella has certainly been keeping himself busy.  The Top Chef contestant fame recently opened up a second restaurant in the Washington, D.C. area with the same small plate style offerings that he’s known for.  While Graffiato is his restaurant with small plate italian offerings, Bandolero is a mexican twist on the small plates – again not to be confused with tapas.  Similar in look and feel to Graffiato, the downstairs level of Bandolero has a loud bar and and open kitchen and the upstairs has a quieter dining room.  However, Bandolero promises to be far busier than Graffiato with its location right on M street in the heart of Georgetown, so be prepared to see a lot of the yuppie types drinking and dining there.

Because the restaurant just opened last month, the service was extremely attentive – but almost too attentive.  Our waitress, while very polite, friendly, and on top of everything, was almost suffocating with the amount of times she came over to check in on us.  My guess is this will tone down once Bandolero has been open for a while.  That was pretty much the only really negative thing I could say about the place.  The cocktail list is impressive and the margaritas are excellent.  The food was quite good, but priced in the same way that Graffiato prices its food – expensive, small portioned, but high quality.

Despite what our waitress said about each person usually getting 2 or 3 plates for their own – I was quite content with splitting 4 plates between two people (that being said, some of the small plates may be larger than others).  Here’s a quick review of what we tried:

El Mata Amigos Margarita – super tasty, but because they use seasonal fruits to make it the one you get might not be what we had, which was pickled pear.  In all honestly however, it tasted at first like a spiked watermelon sherbet cooler which was awesome on a humid 90 degree Washington, D.C. summer day.

Guacamole – very good, but probably not worth $13.  I’ve had similarly good guacamole at other restaurants, so while it was very good – it wasn’t standout.  They do give you a healthy portion to dip your chips and chicarrones (what I’m pretty sure were large pork rinds) in as well as a side of spicy salsa.

Crispy Mahi Mahi Taco – order comes with two fish tacos and the Mahi Mahi is crisp to perfection.  Sprinkle some lime juice on there and it makes for a really, really awesome fish stick taco (I try to say that without it sounding too sarcastically…though that’s what it was).

Suckling Pig Taco – the waitresses recommendation, order comes with three pork tacos with a healthy helping of shredded pork and pork skin on each.  You can taste a fair amount of spiciness from the habenero, and while I thought it was still a little dry for my palate – it’s worth giving it a try.

Alambres – my favorite dish of the meal, the order comes with four silver dollar sized spiced hangar steaks.  The meat was definitely spicy and it was matched well with the morsel of chimichurri sauce that accompanied each piece of meat.  The meat itself was cooked to a perfect medium rare.

So all in all Bandolero gives you a fun dining experience, but at a pretty penny.  Because of the location and the way the food is prepared, this is a pretty great place to take a date.  So, like Graffiato, I would only recommend going there if you have a special occasion and you’re not famished because while the food is good, you don’t want to regret not going to the Chipotle next door because you didn’t know what you were getting into at Bandolero.  Grade: B+

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707 6th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

MON-FRI, 11:30am-5pm
SAT, 12pm-5pm

*kitchen closes at 10pm

*kitchen closes at 11pm

*kitchen closes at midnight

*The bar & pizza oven are open late night after the kitchen closes

Washington, D.C. is not only home to political celebrities, but in recent years has become one of the centers of the celebrity chef universe.  Mike Isabella, former contestant on Top Chef and former executive chef of Jose Andres’ Zaytinya, has stepped up his game with the opening of his new restaurant Graffiato.

Conveniently located near the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro stop, Graffiato offers italian food served in the form of small plates.  Don’t be misled into thinking that “small plates” means “tapas”.  They’re a little bigger than that, but still small enough that you’ll probably want to order two or three to satisfy your hunger.  Graffiato also offers a pretty standout wine list with several local wines and beers as well.

I’ll say this right off the bat – the food was very good.  It was little pricey for what we got, but the quality of the fare was excellent.  Going with a group of friends is definitely a must so that you can try several dishes.   The standout for me was the chicken with cabbage in pepperoni sauce.  The sauce was meaty and spicy, and the chicken was cooked to a moist perfection with a delicious, crispy skin similar to the way peking duck skin is cooked.  Also worth trying is the polenta, which is a grilled goat with pear, the pumpkin risotto and the chocolate tart with a fantastic sea salt ice cream.   Don’t bother with the cauliflower soup and risotto balls.  Keep in mind, the menu does change, so there’s a chance that there will be different offerings when you go.

As good as the food was, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the atmosphere.  The venue was small with a few seats downstairs near the bar and a bigger, brighter dining area upstairs.  Both floors had open kitchens (which was cool seeing Mike Isabella working hard in), but the place was way to loud.  Specifically, the choice of music was a strange mix of Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine and other hard rock that didn’t really match the food we were eating.  It’s not music I necessarily hate, I just don’t want it blasting into my ear while I’m trying to enjoy my meal.

Even with the bar-like atmosphere of Graffiato, the food definitely makes it worth a visit. Grade: B+

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