After returning from cooking in the Kailua-Kona region of Hawaii for six years, Chef Ryan Fichter wanted to bring D.C. a taste of paradise with Tiki Taco. “The goal is to slow the pace of the city down,” he says. “I really put my favorite things from my time in Hawaii together in this restaurant with the shave ice, the poke, the pork.”
Tiki Taco occupies the former Alberto’s Pizza just off Dupont Circle at 2010 P St. NW. Look for red and yellow signs that practically scream “aloha,” then descend the stairs into the beachy, counter-service restaurant specializing in tacos.
“My goal was to create the next amazing bite,” Fichter says. “The tortilla really is a blank vessel. A taco lends itself to being three, four, five bites of really good food. It lends itself to being able to taste different foods from different cultures for a couple of bucks.”
The Kailua pork taco with watercress and pineapple salsa transports you to a luau where Hawaiians customarily cook a pig underground in a pit called an imu. Tiki Taco doesn’t have the capability to cook its pork that way, but Fichter manages to capture the same signature smoky flavor.
“We do it with the tea leaves and slow braise it with Hawaiian salt,” he says. “The technique to infuse smoke into the pork, that’s my little trade secret.”
Not all tacos are strictly Hawaiian-inspired. There’s also a jerk chicken taco, crispy sesame taco, Korean-style kalbi taco, and a softshell crab taco (on special). Tacos cost $3.50 each or $9.75 for a trio.
In addition to tacos, Tiki Taco serves a selection of poke. The traditional tuna version ($12) features hunks of raw ahi that sting with the sharpness of garlic, onion, and coarse salt. Fichter hopes his poke is more similar to what you’d find in Hawaii, compared to what he calls the “Chipotle-style poke places,” that are multiplying in D.C.
The poke is indeed reminiscent of what you’d pick up at the cultish Hawaiian grocery store Foodland. “The idea was to keep it simple and focus on the quality of ingredients,” he says. “We get fresh fish in daily and only buy enough for the day.”
Tiki Taco also serves the ultimate Hawaiian comfort food dish—loco moco—featuring a beef hamburger patty, over-easy eggs, sticky rice, and brown gravy ($11.50). “I’ve had Hawaiians that live in the area come up and give me a big hug, thanking me for feeling like they were back home.” View the complete menu here.
No alcohol is served at Tiki Taco, but there are soft drinks and Kona coffee. For dessert, check out the board of flavors of shave ice ($3 for a small, $5 for a large). They range from Mai Tai and Piña Colada to cherry, mango, root beer, and guava. All shave ice orders come topped with a gummy worm.
Fichter is a Maryland native who has cooked at both Thunder Burger & Bar, and Bodega Spanish Tapas & Lounge. Tiki Taco is his first solo restaurant and he believes there is potential to franchise it. He is already looking at properties for a second location downtown.
Tiki Taco is open Sundays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. They initially served breakfast but scrapped that in favor of adding more entrees and focusing on lunch and dinner. You can also order from Tiki Taco on UberEats.
As published by Washington City Paper – Laura Hayes – June 11