Sneak Peek: Mike Isabella’s Bandolero Pops Up In Cleveland Park

 By Nevin Martell / Photos by Elizabeth Parker

Mike Isabella can’t sit still. His forthcoming Mexican restaurant, Bandolero, opens in Georgetown early this spring, but he wants to give diners a chance to get an advance screening. So he’s doing a pop-up version of the tacos ‘n’ tequila loving concept in Cleveland Park’s Tackle Box.

I got a chance to get a sneak peek, along with talented CityEats shutterbug Elizabeth Parker. Though Isabella and his crew are only temporary guests in the space, they make it feel like their own. Sketches of bull skulls are scattered across the walls and a soundtrack of alt-rock and hip-hop blasts through the room.

Our evening begins with a basket of tortilla chips and featherlight chicharrones – known on this side of the border as pork rinds – which make perfect scoops for guacamole studded with hearty chunks of avocado. I also dip them into the Maya-inspired sikil pak made with ground up roasted pumpkin seeds, then dappled with a shower of sesame seeds and bits of orange.

For my second course, I’m told to choose any three dishes from four categories: Taquitos, Soups & Salads, Tacos, and Traditional. I wasn’t able to make up my mind though, so chef Isabella was kind enough to let me pick out a few extras.

The first plate to come out stars a trio of tiny tuna tartare taquitos in crunchy malanga root shells. Micro-cubes of sweet potato and small scallion rounds are mixed in with the fish to punch up the flavor, while a splash of sambal sauce adds a flash of chili spice. It’s easy to beat the heat with a few sips of the slushito style Hemingway margarita.

The pulled suckling pig is a taco triumph. Thatched with matchsticked apples and sporting a zee of zippy habanero mustard, the swine-y ensemble rests on a soothing swipe of apple butter across the soft mini tortilla. The mahi mahi tacos are done fish stick style, so the logs of whitefish are crusted with a golden layer of crushed tortilla chips. Accessorized with a swoosh of guacamole, chopped cabbage, and a wedge of lime, the three-bite tacos are a winner. And the mole negro short ribs are so tender that you won’t need a knife, though you may ask for a spoon to swoop up every last drop of the chocolaty sauce.

Creamy coconut flan soaked with rum and boasting a hint of Mexican piloncillo dark sugar is my favorite part of the dessert course. Crested with a puff of fresh whipped cream spotted with cubed pineapple and toasted coconut shavings, it’s finished off with two papyrus-thin wings of dehydrated pineapple.

It’s a tasty tease that has me counting down the days until Bandolero’s debut date.


And if you want to check out Bandolero’s Tackle Box takeover, reservations are still available through May 4, exclusively on CityEats. Book now.

  • Michael

    Nice work Nevin!