Workbook: Cuba Meets Mexico at Taqueria Nacional

 

Cuban design and Mexican cuisine meet at DC’s Taqueria Nacional, a project designed by Streetsense. Image courtesy Streetsense.

When John Fulchino, the co-owner of Taqueria Nacional in Washington, DC, first met with Kristina Crenshaw and the design team at Streetsense, he came bearing a book filled with photos of Cuba. It served as the jumping off point for the restaurant, which was moving to larger digs in a former post office building. 

“He said, ‘This is what I want and that was the genesis of what we did,’” says Crenshaw. “The door leading into the kitchen was taken directly from the book. The colors we chose were found throughout the book. Event the idea of the different types of rooms—we took those and used them to break up the space so it wouldn’t feel like a bowling alley.”

In practice, it means that there’s an outdoor courtyard at the front with a polished concrete floor and walls that look like distressed stucco. (The finishes were done by a local artist, Eric Albrecht, who created a mural along in addition to the decorative wall treatments.) There, Crenshaw and her team also decided to embrace the electrical room, concealing it behind corrugated metal siding, which happened to be reclaimed. A bit rusty and covered with nail holes, the contractor was taken aback when he saw them and immediately placed a call to Crenshaw. “We assured him that’s what we wanted,” she says.

The center space was inspired by images of living rooms, so it’s homier with a beam ceiling and framed mirrors lining the walls. The rear space, with the kitchen, takes its cues from the kitchens found in the book. But, in a nod to its postal past, a panel on the service counter reminds customers that this used to be the T Street Station. The garbage cans throughout were custom-made to recall old mailboxes since the postal service doesn’t sell retired ones.

If the furnishings, particularly the seating, seems like it came from your grandmother’s basement, that’s because they did, after a fashion. “We gave him direction, and he found things at yard sales,” Crenshaw says of Fulchino’s sourcing efforts. The fountain in the kitchen area was another of his finds. The result is a fun mix of shapes and sizes and textures—concrete, wood, metal and vinyl among them— that lend a casual yet collected feel to the space.

“This was a collaboration between us and our client,” says Crenshaw. “We got his ideas out of his head and on paper.”

 

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