As the warm summer months gripped the region, a new taco shop opened its doors in North Old Town. For the past three months, Chop Shop Taco, a resident of the outpost of businesses dubbed the Madison Collective, has been dishing out tacos, margaritas and good vibes to its Alexandria neighbors.
The shop’s name isn’t a misnomer – Chop Shop opened its doors in what was a former auto garage, and though now a restaurant it has kept a lot of the architectural motifs that have lingered from the building’s old incarnation. The blend of old and new is at once comfortable and rustic, and chef and co-founder Ed McIntosh says that’s the point.
“I do think there is a destination there. I think we will see different demographics throughout the week,” he said. “It’s a great gathering place, and we really could not have opened at a better time of the year.”
Another facet of the eatery’s setup that people will take notice of is the communal seating. McIntosh says that’s intentional.
“We want people to go shoulder to shoulder with people they haven’t met yet,” he said, adding that some customers have hit it off so well with their tablemates that they’ve made friends and started coming back into Chop Shop Taco together.
But the surroundings are only part of Chop Shop Taco’s flavor. The main component is the food — a relatively simple menu that packs a big punch. As one might expect, tacos take center stage, both in the restaurant itself and of course at the front taco window. But diners will also find the likes of a handful of non-taco small plates (think salads, dips and shareable small bites) and sides like corn on the cob and Frito pie. House-made salsa garnishes many of the dishes, and McIntosh says that level of care extends to the rest of the menu as well.
“It really is all about the process,” he said. “When you walk in there’s this sense of pride where you can see the masa balls being formed by hand.”
That hand-created nature of the menu is one of Chop Shop Taco’s hallmarks, McIntosh says.
“I’m proud to say I would rather have people doing it for us than saying we’re trying to do it ourselves or take a shortcut,” he said. “Just like a pizza or a pasta, once you start with a great base you’re off to the races, you’re off to a great start.”
Chop Shop Taco opened just prior to the Metro’s summer closure, and though the restaurant’s business has continued apace, McIntosh is looking forward to the ensuing months, once the Metro reopens and the weather cools off.
“Opening right in May … I do think there was some fret about Metro shutting down and what that could do with us,” but foot traffic and the neighborhood support have been great, from both the customer and employee sides of the coin, McIntosh said.
“Everything else is great and a bonus, but truly seeing people grow and be with us gives us a lot of confidence for what we could do in the future,” he said.
If You Go
Chop Shop Taco, 1008 Madison St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday; closed Monday and Tuesday.
Showing up strong: “I think it’s exceeded expectations as far as really being embraced by the neighborhood,” says chef and co-founder Ed McIntosh.
Hope Nelson owns and operates the Kitchen Recessionista blog, located at www.kitchenrecessionista.com. Email her any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.