GMS Vignettes: Two Plant-Based Restaurants Rooted in Georgetown 

By Sophia Hall

Chaia Tacos and Shouk, two gems growing roots in the heart of Georgetown, are both entirely plant-based—but they don’t lead with that. In fact, most of their customers are not even vegetarian or vegan. Instead, making food that is purely delicious is at the center of both of these restaurants’ missions, with Chaia Tacos marketing itself as “tacos for everyone” and Shouk offering the uncategorizable “best” of Middle Eastern street food, period. 

These two eateries draw many parallels. Both sit on the Wisconsin Avenue strip, with Shouk sitting directly across from the O Street intersection (1426 Wisconsin Ave NW) and Chaia Tacos tucked away on Grace Street (3207 Grace St NW). Both names trace their origins to Hebrew. Shouk means market, like the open-air fresh markets that inspire their food and energy. The name of Chaia comes from “L’Chaim,” the literal call to life, representing how this taco food concept bases itself around real, whole foods. Originally, Chaia was spelled with a “Y,” named after the Mayan chaya plant, a broad spinach lead that grows on a shrub on the Yucatan peninsula that requires cooking in order to be eaten. Similar to the acai berry, chaya also possesses incredible health and life sustaining attributes. Both restaurants have multiple locations in the area (Chaia has additional spots in Bethesda and Chinatown; Shouk can also be found on K St. and in Rockville) while also looking toward a nationwide expansion.

Shouk is open now at 1426 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Courtesy Shouk.

The two brains behind Shouk, Dennis Friedman and Ran Nussbacher, come from nearly opposite backgrounds. Before starting Shouk, Nussbacher worked at Opower, an Arlington-based company that worked on creating increased efficiency through using software and psychology to change behaviors around energy consumption. Dennis Friedman had an extensive history of running successful fine dining restaurants in Potomac and Bethesda. When Nussbacher first pitched the idea of plant-based Israeli street food, Friedman pounced on it and immediately started brainstorming a menu.

Shouk embraces sustainability in both product and design. They focus on creating unprocessed vegan and kosher food that embraces veggies—not attempting a cheap imitation of meat—to great success. Their plant-centric, world-famous Shouk burger was featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and voted best burger by The Washington Post. Their mushroom-based shawarma steals the show in their bowls. And though at first they never included falafel on their menu, this new edition of crispy deliciousness is a fan favorite, especially when it is topped with almond feta, cucumber, roasted red pepper, pickled red onion, tahini and mint—yum!

A seasonal sampler from Chaia Tacos. Courtesy

Additionally, their restaurants are 100% powered by wind, and also their packaging is completely renewable, utilizing plant-based, biodegradable materials like wooden utensils. 

“Farm-driven, feminine, and bohemian,” is how Bettina Stern, Chaia Tacos co-founder, would describe the business. The 85-year-old-building that Chaia calls home in Georgetown features a stunning skylight and ample seating. Though the tacos are served in compostable packaging, the sunny interior invites customers to stay and linger.  

Chaia Tacos first began out of a farmer’s market stall at FreshFarm market just blocks away from the White House. At first, Stern and her partner Suzanne Simon were not even sure that the “estoteric of hand griddled corn tortillas filled with local organic farm produce” would even take off. But after they sold over 300 taco trios in three hours every single weekend and people waited in line for 45 minutes, they knew they had a winning idea. 

Their “Tacos for Everyone” slogan appeals to a broad range of eaters, from die-hard vegetarians to people whose parents constantly nagged them about eating more veggies. Their rotating menu is based of the seasons, which means every few months, new flavors abound. Now that summer is in full swing, customers will be inundated with yummy roasted eggplant tacos with goat cheese, which Stern describes as “squishy and delicious, and slightly spicy.” Until October, the flavors of chard, sweet corn, green beans, and many more summer produce will fill their tortillas. They also offer green gazpacho soup and just released frozen blueberry basil margaritas. Is your mouth watering yet?

Plant-based hummus and pita from Shouk. Courtesy of

Since the pandemic, both restaurants have heavily relied on catering and food delivery services. However, embracing technology has never been a problem for Shouk. From the beginning, they offered online ordering, and their in-store iPad system makes placing an order a breeze. Chaia Tacos similarly offers online ordering and catering services.

Incorporating plant-based meals into your life doesn’t have to be hard—in fact, these two Georgetown restaurants make it incredibly easy. By embracing real, whole fruits and vegetables, Shouk, Chaia Tacos, and many other plant-based stores like Falafel Inc. enhance the flavors and create unforgettable meals. Check them out next time you’re planning a fun date or a casual afternoon out with your friends. 

Sponsored by Georgetown Main Street




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