Visitors to Espita in Shaw likely come for the upscale Mexican cuisine, but you might not know that the restaurant is also home to a hidden smash burger kitchen accurately named Ghostburger.
Situated at 1250 9th St. NW in the Mt. Vernon Square neighborhood, Ghostburger grants you the exceptional flavors of authentic Southern Mexican food in an American-style burger. Beginning as a pop-up addition to keep mother restaurant Espita alive during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ghostburger’s success has earned their smash burgers a permanent place on Espita’s “secret” menu.
Expecting a casual burger joint with a dress code similar to Shake Shack, I was instead met with an insulated outdoor seating area, full of lush plants and well-dressed customers, as I neared the restaurant. Looking down at our immensely casual clothes, my friend and I double checked Google maps to make sure we were at the right restaurant.
After the hostess assured us we were at the correct spot, home of Ghostburger, she led us to the moody large open-style dining area inside. The modern room was dimly lit, but I could still notice the slick concrete floors and dark wood finishes.
The candlelight illuminating each table and the subtle soul music playing in the background made the large space feel intimate. I immediately thought this would be perfect for a date.
Surrounded by wall murals and wooden beams hanging from the high ceiling, it’s hard not to feel like a muse sitting in this trendy, yet charming space. Although we sat at a table, the bar was even more alluring – made of solid dark oak and covered in their coveted mezcal selection with choices like the oaxaca sour ($14) made with Angostura Bitters, mezcal, ango, pineapple syrup and lime juice.
Oaxaca – a state in southern Mexico – is the inspiration for the authentic, but not traditional, items you can order from the Espita menu. With an array of salsas ($4 to $12), served with heirloom blue corn chips, and fresh appetizers ($12 to $17), I was torn between the options on each menu.
I decided to get a taste of the Espita menu, ordering the ensalada ($12) to start. With lentils, roasted beets, avocado and savory granola on a bed of kale, this healthy appetizer would make any vegan friend happy.
The tender kale was easy to chew, and the beets tasted fresh, making a hearty salad base. Savory granola, acting as a healthy carb to replace something like a crouton cut the acidic lemony dressing perfectly.
When you’re finished deciphering the Espita menu along with many drink options, like the smoky specialty cocktails, make sure to specifically ask your waiter for a Ghostburger menu. Their signature smash burgers and fries lie solely on the elusive pop-up menu.
The waiter suggested his favorite burger, la hamburguesa ($10). With a potato bun holding a four-ounce smashed patty covered in queso, salsa, smoked tomatillo relish and cilantro, the waiter did not have to convince me to order this Mexican American fusion masterpiece.
La hamburguesa was stacked high with a beef patty and intriguing toppings as it approached with a mountain of golden fries on the side. The no-frill plating kept the classic American hamburger energy you’re accustomed to at all the best casual burger joints.
With a soft potato bun and a decadent beef patty, the rich queso that coated the burger was cut by fresh cilantro. This balanced flavor combination was complimented by the sweet and spicy tomatillo relish. A thin layer of salsa on the bottom bun added additional moisture and flavors to the already divine burger.
I love eating queso at Mexican restaurants, and I adore a classic American burger, but I never thought the two would combine to make an indulgent Mexican-American fusion dish.
The restaurant’s classic Ghostburger ($9), which my friend was hesitant to share, combined the delicate bun and crispy beef patty I adored from my burger with the classic toppings I desired out of comfort – American cheese, red onion, dill pickle and spooky sauce.
With intricate burgers and sandwiches, Ghostburger was Espita’s missing half – destined to cure the cravings of herbivores, carnivores and everyone in between.
This article appeared in the March 10, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.