When Fifth Group Restaurants shuttered the Original El Taco in Virginia-Highland in March, neighborhood families were crushed, having made the 15-year-old Tex-Mex spot a go-to for casual meals with kids. Now, Fifth Group—the company that operates Ecco, Alma Cocina, South City Kitchen, Lure, and La Tavola—has a different target audience in mind for El Taco’s replacement. Named Ela, it will serve Mediterranean fare cooked over an open flame, in a spirited environment.
“This is more adult focused,” says Fifth Group partner Steve Simon. “It’s a little more serious, more beverage focused and high-energy to attract a younger clientele.”
Beverages will use Mediterranean flavors and spices to riff on popular cocktails (think Manhattan and negroni). Expect two frozen drinks: an aperol spritz and an espresso martini. Wines will be “regionally appropriate” with some light options on tap and a small bottle list. Ela will be open late at night, too.
Described as a “Pan-Mediterranean” restaurant, Ela will feature flavors from Greece, Morocco, Turkey, and Israel with ingredients such as olives, chickpeas, eggplant, seafood, marinated lamb, and herbs. The menu will highlight mezze or small plates meant to be shared with select entrees such as tamarind date grilled whole fish and a harissa lamb burger. Proteins like tamarind date pork, harissa chicken, mushroom shawarma, and herb-marinated lamb sirloin can be ordered a top a salad, in a pita, or served with couscous. For dessert, there’s Greek frozen yogurt with honey and baklava crumbled on top.
“It eats fairly light. It’s not super bread heavy. It’s meat- and vegetable-forward,” vice president of culinary Mark Jeffers says. “We’re creating great food, but it’s not stuffy. It’s got the right balance of sophistication and fun.”
Darragh Dudley, who worked at Restaurant Daniel and ABC Kitchen in New York, is the executive chef. He’s working on weekend brunch items like chickpea pancakes, pita and lox, and shakshuka with cauliflower. There will also be a Turkish hash made with minced lamb, goji berries, roasted potatoes, eggs, and Swiss chard.
Bill Peace of Peace Design led the revitalization of the space. Gone are the bright, vibrant colors of El Taco. Instead, there are warm, neutral tones, reclaimed oak, and natural fabrics like linen, burlap, and leather. A green stone bar offers a Mediterranean feel, and plants hang from the ceiling. There’s a new separation between the bar and the dining room with more booths and high-top tables. The open, airy patio remains. Outside, a more modern facade features steel and glass.
“It’s the first new concept we’ve done in 10 years,” Simon says. “It’s going to be a fun hang.”