Food

The New Taco Bamba Is a Love Letter to Northern Virginia

“Three little chanchos,” with chorizo, carnitas, and pork al pastor. Photo by Scott Suchman

It’s easy to assume Victor Albisu’s new Vienna restaurant is Mexican. The spinoff of his Falls Church carryout boasts an expanded menu of tostadas, nachos, quesadillas, and tacos. In fact, the name Taco Bamba was chosen because in Peru bamba is slang for “inauthentic.”

Albisu, a Washingtonian of Peruvian and Cuban descent, isn’t in the business of recreating Mexican classics. His new venture is no typical taqueria. Chef de cuisine Tom Hall works the line, and a cocktail menu boasts Amin Seddiq’s house-made horchata; both men are affiliated with Del Campo, Albisu’s upscale South American steakhouse. Anyone who has clamored for a stool at the Taco Bamba carryout or thirsted for tequila will welcome the new digs: a high-energy, 42-seat spot equipped with a full bar that provides the best 12 seats in the house. Service there is direct and the passionfruit margaritas addictive. Otherwise, you order at a counter.

But if Taco Bamba is inauthentically Mexican, it’s an authentic homage to Northern Virginia, Washington’s modern melting pot. The new menu in Vienna reflects the area’s ethnic diversity, especially the tacos nuestros ($4). Try the 7 Corners Shrimp, which nods to nearby Eden Center (i.e., Little Vietnam) with its bright herbs and rice noodles. The Bulgogi Bullfight taco pays tribute to Annandale’s Koreatown with bulgogi-style pork and Brussels-sprout kimchee. And if you’re curious, the Vienna Vape Shop (crispy fries, sausages, spicy Thousand Island) is as fun to eat as it sounds.

Not all creations deliver. The Black Sheep taco is all chew with squid-ink-braised goat and calamari, while skirt steak and chorizo on the DIY taco Big Papa Bamba Platter ($18) are tough and bland. Better to indulge in three-meat nachos ($8) or crispy tostadas topped with creamy crab salad ($9).

A meal can verge on sensory overload given the abundant flavors, chilies, and salt. Bacon guacamole seems particularly excessive—but go for the star dish anyway.

“People shy away from being too much,” says Albisu. “Too much is where we live.”

Taco Bamba Vienna
164 Maple Ave. W., Vienna; 703-436-6339
Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.