Isabel is a small Mexi–Cali BYO nestled in the foot of a condominium complex right behind the Art Museum. Opened just a few weeks ago by Michael Poole and Van Chau, who also own Trio (a Pan Asian BYO about two blocks away), Isabel promises traditional favorites like queso fundido ($6) and chiles rellenos ($15), while spicing things up with a saucy Cali twist, incorporating items as exotic chocolate duck salad ($8) and a tequila–infused "drunken chicken" ($16) into their growing menu.
While we admire Isabel for its heart and eccleticism, we’re not sure the it’s worth the trek in the end.
If you prefer a quiet spot, Isabel fits the bill. Space in the restaurant is limited, yet the high ceilings and panoramic windows compensate. In fact, the simple decor, low lighting and open kitchen are perhaps Isabel’s greatest assets. Unfortunately, as much cannot be said for the service, nor the food. After a rather strange wait in the bare condo lobby, we’d been seated menu–less for 10 minutes when a waitress came to take our order.
Only a short while later, we were confused when the main courses arrived prior to the appetizers. The spotty service might be explained by the restaurant's recent opening — the wait staff were definitely overwhelmed but made an effort to be helpful and friendly.
But once we finally got our order, we were less than enthused.The simple guacamole appetizer ($7), served with house–made corn chips, was incredibly fresh, yet lacked texture and seasoning. We were adventurous and went for the popular roasted duck quesadilla ($8), but were disappointed to find it dry and under stuffed. Much like the appetizers, our main courses were cleanly presented, but didn’t have that special kick we yearned for. The “drunken chicken" ($16) should have pre–gamed a little harder — it needed some serious oomph. While fresh and appetizing to the eye, the steak tacos ($17) seemed more like a meal you’d cook with your family on a Monday night.
With improved service and added flavor to complement the fresh, crisp ingredients, Isabel might have potential in the future, but for now, sit tight — there’s better Mexican to be had around here.
Isabel BYOB 2601 Pennsylvania Avenue (215) 475–8088 $$$$$ Don’t Miss: Watching the chef’s in action through the open kitchen Skip: The “Drunken” Chicken