D.C. taco truck to Brentwood restaurant: Little Miner Taco’s evolution
BY HEATHER MARLÉNE ZADIG
Devoted fans of Little Miner Taco in Brentwood rave over their signature birria de res beef tacos, loaded nachos and chicken tinga empanadas, but there’s so much more to the restaurant than its crave-worthy Mexican street food. Perched in an unpretentious white rectangular block of a building along Rhode Island Avenue, it can be easy to miss, but the restaurant earns a second glance: This roadside taco joint is anything but typical.
For one thing, the restaurant and its trio of food trucks began spontaneously offering free meals to kids in the community early in the pandemic when public schools — and their free or subsidized lunches — were shuttered, giving away an estimated tens of thousands of meals at no cost. Against all odds, they quietly decided to maintain their kids-eat-free policy indefinitely, not for the accolades, but because they thought it was the right thing to do.
“It’s never a consideration to amend that or change that or take it off the menu,” owner Kathy Voss told the Hyattsville Life & Times. “The community comes out and supports us so much. The least we can do is feed the kids.”
Voss took over as sole owner of Little Miner in October 2022 from co-founder and business partner, Mackenzie Kitburi, and the commitment to authentic, from-scratch cooking endures. Originally from Pennsylvania, Voss has toiled in the business side of restaurants for over 20 years, arriving in D.C. back in 2013 to work for Joe’s Seafood Prime Steak and Stone Crab.
She left Joe’s in 2019 to help open Little Miner in its former location directly across the street, in the miXt Food Hall. Back then, the neighborhood’s only other options were highly processed fast food, with limited grocery selection, said Voss. “So when we came in, we were super intentional about being as healthy as possible — no additives, no preservatives. We’re literally cooking from scratch every morning.”
Just in time for New Year’s resolutions, the restaurant added a build-your-own burrito bowl option with fresh seasonal greens, beans or Spanish-style rice as a base for patrons seeking even healthier meals. Additionally, a soy-based vegan “al pastor” and vegan “carnitas” are both due to debut soon on one of its Taco Tuesdays, joining Little Miner’s mushroom-based vegetarian options.
Though it can be rare to find truly authentic-tasting Mexican street food this far northeast, Voss explained that the key to the homemade flavors at Little Miner is the fresh ingredients and especially the from-scratch cooking of their experienced culinary team, led by executive chef Joel Sánchez.
Voss said that significant research and testing done by the team both in Mexico and back here in the kitchens went into perfecting the recipes — which this Southern California native can report taste shockingly like home.
“How do we come up with great Mexican cuisine?” Voss said in response to my surprise. “We hired great Mexican chefs.”
The commitment to authentic Mexican cooking still allows some wiggle room for playful experimentation, however, which led the team to adapt the rich beef birria consommé broth to a menu of Mexican-inspired ramens. “They’re like great distant cousins,” said Voss of the Japanese soup broth and the birria Mexican stew base. “And it happens that a lot of the toppings that we already would have for tacos or burritos are just kind of symbiotic for a ramen as well,” she explained, adding that it was a fun and different way to use their consommé.
The local food reviewer known on social media as Big Schlim said he often opts for Little Miner when he’s not reviewing. “I truly love this spot,” wrote the D.C. native, describing its birria meat as “consistently tender and juicy” and the chips and guacamole as “absolutely delicious!”
Several patrons surveyed were surprised to learn of the kids-eat-free menu options but said it wouldn’t be the main draw for them. That would be the food, which they described as “addictive” and “so good,” and which earned the restaurant a 2022 RAMMY Award for Favorite Fast Bites in the D.C. area.
Although her focus has been on the business side of the culinary world, Voss prides herself on having “a discerning palate” and described the restaurant as a labor of love. “You feel a calling of what you’re supposed to do, and you just kind of do it.”
Little Miner Taco (littleminertaco.com) is open seven days a week at its Brentwood location, 4308 Rhode Island Avenue. Additional locations are in NoMa in D.C. and at a Bethesda food hall.