Sep 6, 2023 - Food and Drink

Celeb-restaurateur Stephen Starr's D.C. takeover begins

U-shaped tequila bar at El Presidente
A killer shark of a tequila bar. Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez

Le Diplomate's Stephen Starr opens a splashy Mexican spot near Union Market today — part of a big D.C. expansion for the hospitality guru.

Why it matters: Starr is one of the hottest names in the biz, and if El Presidente and his next D.C. ventures are as popular as Le Dip and St. Anselm — watch out José Andrés, there's another mega-restaurateur in town.

What's happening: The palatial Mexican restaurant is outfitted with a velvety "theater room" for dining, has a bar area inspired by Mexico City social clubs, and a big patio.

  • Dinner reservations are already edging into the "before-5, after-9" realm (and sold out for most September weekends) but they're taking walk-ins. Lunch and brunch start soon.
A Mexican seafood tower (left) and Scorpion bowl (right)
A Mexican seafood tower (left) and Scorpion bowl. Photo courtesy of Birch Thomas

Catch up fast: Starr runs a fleet of nearly 40 hotspots from Miami to Philadelphia — some Michelin-starred, others wildly popular — with marquee names like Morimoto, Le Coucou, and Buddakan.

  • In addition to original concepts, Starr aligns himself with fellow industry dynamos to build culinary powerhouses — a unique play in this fiercely independent industry. Take his partnership with Keith McNally (of Balthazar fame and infamy), with whom Starr reopened and expanded Meatpacking District legend Pastis. A new Pastis will open near Union Market.
  • Ditto for Starr's partnership with LA-based Nancy Silverton, with whom he's creating "a mega Italian concept" in Georgetown's old Dean & DeLuca space based around Silverton's Hollywood institution, Osteria Mozza.

What's next: A rumored takeover of the Willard Hotel's restaurant overlooking the White House.

By the numbers: Decade-old Le Diplomate is D.C.'s second-highest-grossing independent restaurant, according to a survey last year from Restaurant Business, with annual sales above $21 million and more than 347,000 customers served.

What they're saying: Chef Matt Baker, who's opening a Mediterranean wine bar across from El Presidente, tells Axios there's Starr power wherever he's expanding.

  • "If you see Stephen Starr taking a good chunk of [the neighborhood], I feel pretty good about it. We could live off his residuals."
Tomahawk steak and whole fish (left) on a "theater room" table. Photo courtesy of Birch Thomas

On the menu: El Presidente blends favorites from Philly hot spot El Vez — strong margaritas, craveable fish tacos — with a fresh lineup of Mexico City-inspired fare.

  • Diners can duck in for barbecue bacon tacos and crab guacamole, or make a night of it with Mexican-style seafood towers and a $120 tomahawk steak with guajillo demiglace and grilled marrow.

In your glass: Party drinks include shareable "Michelada service." Or, perhaps a bid for Le Diplomate regular Joe Biden, a rum-and-salted-grapefruit "Air Force Uno." What say you, El Presidente?

A dining room at El Presidente
"Theater Room" dining. Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez
An elote cocktail (left) and tabletop tacos al carbone.
An elote cocktail (left) and tabletop tacos al carbón. Photo courtesy of Birch Thomas
Dining room. Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez

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