Enoteca Vespaio — the beloved little sister of South Congress Italian staple Vespaio — came to a sudden close on July 9. The two restaurants stood together, side-by-side, since 2005: two halves of one whole authentic Italian concept; the closure was announced just three days prior.
A forthcoming Oaxacan concept from the restaurant's owners, called Chapulín Cantina, will replace the wine bar.
Since 1998, Vespaio has been delicious, ideally located, and expensive. It opens for dinner only, at 5 pm, and is usually busy. By opening the second tiny dining room next door, the concept reached a daytime crowd, or just one that didn’t need a great Italian meal to be a great affair. It served lunch and continued through to dinner, emphasizing the long bar that ran alongside the dining room, and selling desserts from a street-facing display on the end.
Enoteca wasn’t just more accessible, although in fairness, it wasn’t cheap either. Thanks to its lessened pressure to meet the demands of upscale dining, in many ways, it felt more true to an authentic Italian dining experience.
Some whispers of change came in 2019, when it quietly transferred ownership to chef Ryan Samson and general manager Daniel Brooks (who also owns Licha's Cantina on East Sixth Street). The veteran duo took it over with few intentions of changing the space or the menu, and the diners who did not read about it in local publications likely would not have noticed any change at all.
Chapulín, its namesake, refers to dried and roasted grasshopper, a popular standout in regional cuisine. (Surely not by accident, it also runs parallel to Vespaio’s namesake, a wasp nest.) If Enoteca’s cool, casual atmosphere and solidly simple dishes are an indication of what’s to come, Chapulín Cantina is poised to be one of the city’s most fluent traditional Mexican concepts.