A beginning word of caution: if you intend to visit Bandolero anytime soon, be sure to make a reservation early. Despite opening recently, the weekend after Georgetown's graduation, Bandolero has seen a steady stream of traffic. It's located on M Street in the space left by Hook (which closed due to a kitchen fire). Top Chef alum Mike Isabella's sophomore outing, Bandolero follows Graffiato's model of offering Isabella's take on Italian food, except with Mexican, in a dimly lit, Day of the Dead themed venue.
Bandolero's "bill of fare" is comprised of small plates of taquitos, tacos, empanadas, and other traditional dishes. Tables aren't started with chips or salsa, but if you order La Cata ($20), you'll get an array of masa chips, chicarrones (housemade fried pork rinds), and totopos (pre-marinated with ranchera, fried tortilla chips), accompanied by guacamole, salsa, and crema. It's almost a meal unto itself, but restrain yourself from spoiling your appetite and it's a great starter for a group.
Inside Bandolero, you'll be seated between bare brick walls and reclaimed cemetery fences. The light is low and red, but not obtrusively so. Consider ordering the suckling pig taco ($13) with apple and habanero mustard (a great mix of sweet and spicy) and the queso fundido ($9) with duck confit, maitake, manchego, and egg. "Liquid, gooey awesome," said a Bandolero representative about this dish. The empanada, one of the few vegetarian dishes, is one way to break up some of the heavier bites.
The cocktail program offers creative takes on classic drinks focusing mainly on tequila and mezcal. The Jesus Malverde ($10) is made with cucumber, lime, cilantro, and "hellfire" bitters that add some smokiness. It's very strong, as are the frozen margaritas, which are so strong that it's hardly frozen at all. The high alcohol content keeps them from turning into an out and out slushy. Perhaps most notable is the El Bandolero Margarita ($9) on tap. Lime and blood orange flavored, these are easy to down on a summer day.
The subdued macabre aesthetic, the free flowing margaritas (which you'll probably drink too much of), and the decidedly Mike Isabella take on the small plates are what you'll find here.