Seven Maryland and Virginia locations
Victor Albisu—formerly chef/owner of the late, great mod-Mex dining room Poca Madre—lets his freak flag fly at this ever-expanding group of taquerias, often pulsing with ’90s hair metal. There’s a core menu of breakfast items and straightforward street tacos, but each of his seven locations offers its own wonderful oddities, whether a Cuban-sandwich-inspired taco, a kabocha-squash-and-brown-butter version, or a noodle-stuffed ramen variety. The places have a fast-casual feel, but stick to the Ballston, Rockville, and Springfield locations for expansive lists of margaritas and Palomas.
Tacos a la Madre
5010 Berwyn Rd., College Park.
In the summer of 2020, Bertha Soriano, a chef at a University of Maryland sorority house, began selling tacos out of her home kitchen. Soon, online orders for her pop-up’s birria and carne asada were selling out in minutes. After a temporary repositioning in a Holiday Inn kitchen, Bertha and several family members made their taqueria official in a permanent space near the university last fall. She oversees the kitchen, and her children, husband, and son-in-law help run the place, where a line stretches from the cafe’s counter to the front door. Even if you’re birria’ed out, the quesotacos—tortillas lined in cheese, filled with braised beef, griddled to a crisp, and served with mahogany dipping broth—are worth a trip. So too the fries heaped with steak, avocado sauce, pico de gallo, and sour cream.
Anafre, El Sol, Mariscos 1133,
3704 14th St., NW (Anafre), 1227 11th St., NW (El Sol), 1133 11th St., NW (Mariscos 1133), 3714 14th St., NW (Mezcalero)
Mexico City–born brother and sister Jessica and Alfredo Solis—both chefs—had plenty of restaurant experience before they opened their first taco destination, Logan Circle’s El Sol (1227 11th St., NW), in 2014. Jessica owned a taqueria in Mexico, while Alfredo spent more than a decade working his way up through Passion Food Hospitality spots such as the late DC Coast and Ceiba, eventually becoming the restaurant group’s executive chef. In 2017, they debuted the laid-back Mezcalero (3714 14th St., NW) in Columbia Heights. The seafood- and Mexican-pizza-focused Anafre (3704 14th St., NW) and more upscale Mariscos 1133 (1133 11th St., NW) are more recent arrivals. The Solis sibs have a way with all things seafood, from the standard-setting fried-shrimp tacos at El Sol to the octopus-laden pizza at Anafre to the tuna tostadas at Mariscos 1133. And the restaurants serve creative, well-crafted, affordable tequila, rum, and mezcal cocktails.
3710 14th St., NW; 8145 Baltimore Ave., College Park.
Long before DC chefs were boasting of scratch tortillas and salsas, husband-and-wife team Mirna Montero-Alvarado and Dio Montero—both Puebla natives—were crafting their own masa rounds and charring peppers in their tiny 14th Street kitchen, which opened nearly a decade ago. Here and at a bigger, brighter location in College Park, the taco menu is point-and-win—we go for the pineapple-flecked al pastor, goat barbacoa, and cheesy shrimp tacos Yucatecos. And we haven’t met a hangover that Habanero’s chilaquiles can’t cure.
7056 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park.
There’s meat on the menu at this cool Takoma Park cafe, but keep in mind that chef/co-owner David Perez came out of the San Francisco vegan restaurant Gracias Madre. The veggie creations are where it’s at. Load up on lime-heavy guac; sweet-potato flautas and gorditas; and hearty mushroom tacos. To drink, there are fresh-squeezed margaritas, either boozy or zero-proof. The counter-order room is snug and the place can get crowded—happily, it’s moving to a bigger space in the neighborhood later this year.
43 N St., NW
Tex-Mex—or rather, good Tex-Mex—is one strain of Mexican cuisine in short supply around here. Unless you’re at Chris Svetlik’s airy Truxton Circle hangout. By day, you can hit the cafe for horchata lattes and brisket-and-egg breakfast tacos. At night, settle into a wishbone chair in the dining room and gorge on chili-laced queso, gochujang-accented steak fajitas, and some of the best spicy margaritas in the city.
1212 Fourth St., SE; 1309 Fifth St., NE
The name of these fast-casual taquerias says it all: tacos (and bowls) Korean-style. We like dark-meat chicken with a gingery glaze, or caramelized hoisin tofu with kale slaw or the spicier kimchi slaw. Toppers such as pickled daikon, lime crema, salsa roja, crunchy shallots, and guacamole add layers of flavor. Not feeling tacos? Have the pile-up on white or brown sushi-style rice, or make it a salad with one of the slaws.
U Street corridor, Tenleytown, Leesburg
There are few better food deals than Taco Tuesday at Mauricio Flores Turcios’s fast-casual spots—when generously filled chicken, tofu, and chorizo tacos are discounted to a mere $2.50 (even to go). It’s a smart take on happy hour for a place that doesn’t serve booze. But really, it’s worth visiting any night of the week, especially for all-day breakfast burritos, fried-shrimp tacos with salsa verde, and tangy guacamole.
4749 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; 1550 Crystal Dr., Arlington
These design-driven taquerias—spinoffs of a New York hit—can get loud (and the staff overwhelmed) at peak times. But to make up for it are inviting cocktails, purse racks at every table, and first-rate tacos. Carne asada translates to thin slabs of Black Angus beef drizzled with salsa verde. Alaskan cod is fried Baja-style and served with poblano mayo. And quesadillas are open-faced works of art—we like the free-range-chicken version.
5029 Connecticut Ave., NW
This sliver of a Forest Hills dining room/carryout was kick-started in early 2020 by the talented chef Christian Irabién, an alum of José Andrés’s Oyamel. What sets Muchas Gracias apart is the details: edible flowers atop the flan, a fistful of herbs on the guacamole, and a trio of fried-sunfish tacos with mustard tartar sauce and habanero salsa. Also, brunch—whether a lovely mix of tropical fruits dusted with fennel pollen or an egg-and-chorizo burrito—and plenty of vegan options.
Chop Shop Taco
1008 Madison St., Alexandria
This former car garage in Old Town is now jazzed up with a hibiscus-pink exterior and a dining-room mural of roses. The bar slings mezcal margaritas, while the kitchen specializes in prettily plated staples with cheffy surprises. Guacamole is spiced with togarashi, yuca fries are zigzagged with chipotle crema, and quesadillas come stuffed with long-cooked brisket or glazed pork belly.
Housemade tortillas don’t guarantee tasty tacos—but a master tortillera like Yesenia Neri Diaz can, especially when matched with a butcher like Rogelio Garcia. Together, the Mexican business partners fashion miniature wonders at this indoor/outdoor spot—a sibling to nearby Destino and Shaw’s Espita—in the Latin marketplace La Cosecha. Here, Oaxacan blue corn is ground and nixtamalized (put through a steeping process that improves the flavor and nutritional value of dried corn) and pork shoulder is broken down and marinated overnight. The result: flavor-packed tacos and quesadillas stuffed with tangy al pastor or housemade green chorizo.
924 U St., NW
What started as a pandemic side hustle for longtime ThinkFoodGroup chef Teresa Padilla and China Chilcano alum Geraldine Mendoza has grown into a permanent obsession for Mexican street-food fanatics, thanks to the duo’s snug U Street carryout, which stays open until 1 am on weekends. Padilla lovingly recreates specialties from her native Puebla: overstuffed pan-fried-chicken sandwiches, quesadilla-like mulitas, and carne asada tucked into housemade tortillas with peppers and nopales (cactus). Birria—beef or lamb—is among the best in the District. Don’t skip the buñuelo doughnuts for dessert.
Georgetown, Chinatown, Bethesda
The chicest taquerias in town are this trio of minimalist vegetarian spots, done up with basket light fixtures and handmade tiles (Chinatown) or Persian rugs and plants (Bethesda). Chaia evolved from a popular farmers-market taco stand, and the menu—entirely gluten-free—mirrors the seasons. Smoky zucchini is accented with chipotle yogurt and mint, while asparagus and-spring-garlic tacos are perked up with goat cheese and preserved lemon. The creamy kale-and-potato taco, happily, is served year-round.
Taqueria al Lado
1792 Columbia Rd., NW; 809 12th St., NE
Few spots embody lively neighborhood taquerias like Rolando Frias’s day-to-late-night Adams Morgan and H Street–corridor hangouts. Snag a colorful sidewalk stool along the front window and tuck into baskets of fried-to-order chips, ultra-fresh fish aguachile that “cooks” in its own citrus juices at the table, and a kaleidoscope of tacos. We’re fans of the crispy carnitas, tender lengua, and fried fish that momentarily whisks you from street to beach, especially with a cucumber-mezcal cocktail.
1727 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
Three words: masitas de puerco. You can have these crispy morsels of fried pork on a platter with rice and beans or in a taco with pickled red onion. Cocktails at the 22-year-old Rosslyn restaurant—namely, the Sangrita (half frozen margarita, half sangria) and the El Pepino (cucumber vodka and lime with a hint of habanero)—are on point, and the ultra-creamy flan is memorable.
Casa de Avila Tacos
1602 Village Market Blvd., SE, Leesburg
This family-run ghost taqueria in Leesburg’s Chefscape food hall turns out tacos that are modern yet authentic. (Many recipes are ones the owners grew up with.) Carne asada is amped up with beefy jus, carnitas are at once crisp and tender, and silky refried beans beg to be scarfed with a spoon. Also good: a griddled birria taco with intense dipping broth, shrimp tacos with chipotle crema, and the tart tamarind agua fresca made from steeped pods of the fruit.
1819 Columbia Rd., NW (Los Compañeros); 3213 Mount Pleasant St., NW (Taqueria Nacional)
Ann Cashion—the daughter of native Texans—has cooked Mexican food in one form or another since opening Austin Grill in Glover Park in 1988, where she met business partner Johnny Fulchino. Now the duo are slinging some of the city’s best tacos and strongest margaritas. We love their Adams Morgan joint for an evening fueled by chili-spiked queso, fish tacos, and Fulchino’s “margarita 1988s,” which haven’t changed in three decades. Counter-service Taqueria Nacional delivers the same flavors in faster form. Watch the specials board for sweets like Cashion’s chocolate-habanero pecan pie.
411 N. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg
Gorge on chunky guacamole and ultra-crispy chips. But save room for this popular dining room’s other triumphs, such as the marvelous posole with a flotilla of pork and a red-chili-tinged broth that warms rather than sears. On the taco roster, home in on chicken mole, suadero (shredded beef rib), and cochinita (slow-roasted pork with citrus)—all on housemade tortillas. Portions are generous and prices low, making the relaxed indoor/outdoor space a magnet for families and friend groups.
Taqueria La Placita
5020 Edmonston Rd., Hyattsville
Javier Martinez’s beloved Hyattsville taqueria is a lesson in the joys of nose-to-tail tacos, especially pork. Meaty cheeks and belly, unctuous skin, crackling morsels of leg meat—or better yet, the “surtida” taco that mixes bits of all. (For a pork pause, we also love the lamb barbacoa.) Grab a bag of fresh-cut mango drizzled with chamoy and Tajín and head to a rickety patio table where fresh salsas and pickle pots await.
El Papi Real Street Tacos
5904 Allentown Way, Camp Springs
“Patricia’s queso-birria” taco gets the huzzahs at this quirky Camp Springs taqueria for good reason. Owner Rudy Zamora-Herrera slowly simmers his brisket, spikes his consommé with chilies and cinnamon, soaks tortillas in this heady gravy, and then griddles them. Don’t overlook the taco menu’s other pleasures: shredded-lamb barbacoa, chunks of lengua (beef tongue) to spritz with vinegary green salsa, and fried pork.
Brentwood, North Bethesda, Woodbridge
Birria buffs will find the long-braised beef in forms both expected (tacos in cheese-encrusted shells) and not (pizza and cheesesteaks) at this standalone restaurant and duo of food-hall counters. Mackenzie Kitburi is a more-is-more kind of chef. “Munchwraps” fuse soft flour and crunchy corn tortillas and are bulging with cheese sauce, sour cream, chipotle aïoli, and ground beef or grilled chicken. Burritos are ginormous. Also generous: the dad of three serves free quesadillas for kids—even on to-go orders.
21305 Windmill Parc Dr., Sterling
Tajín—that flavor bomb of pummeled chilies, salt, and lime—is everywhere at Santosh Tiptur’s stylish, fusion-minded tapas-and-taco room. It elevates a hibiscus margarita, kisses paper-thin tortilla chips, and adds zing to esquites, that off-the-cob corn-and-crema sensation. Spicing, in general, is punchy. Al pastor warms the tongue, and the short-rib birria’s dipper is incendiary. Dig in at happy hour, when tacos are three bucks.
626 S. Washington St., Falls Church
The 2020 birria boom that sent Jalisco-style tacos viral is in aftershock: The drippy tacos are everywhere, and few taste as good as they look on TikTok. One exception: David Andres Peña’s halal taqueria (open Thursday through Sunday). Pick between stewed goat or beef—plus dunking consommé that mingles braising liquids, dried chilies, and warm spices. The pork-averse will love Peña’s chicken-kebab-like “halal-pastor.” And a juicy tangle of chicken tinga can best the birria, especially matched with a fresh cucumber-ginger agua fresca.
1472 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria
Tom Voskuil has been in the restaurant industry nearly 40 years, and six weeks before the pandemic began, he finally opened a place of his own. The bright strip-mall taqueria—there’s a bar up front and a counter-service dining room in the back—survived, despite an initial 95-percent drop in revenue. It’s easy to taste why. Tacos are served on tortillas fashioned from house-ground Oaxacan corn and filled with marinated sirloin, pulled pork with pickled onions, and, best of all, seafood such as grilled shrimp and crispy cod. On the side, grab a cob of mayo-slathered, Mexican-style street corn, and get your margarita to stay or in a bottle to go.
Taqueria Tres Reyes
8562 Mathis Ave., Manassas
A bit of sensory overload awaits inside this plain-on-the-outside strip-mall spot—the dining room blares with dueling TVs and cilantro-green paint. Good thing the tacos and, even better, gorditas are just as tasty in to-go form. Clamshells of chorizo- and goat-stuffed tortillas come with a feast of accessories: radishes, charred onions, herbs, and green salsa you’ll want to put on everything. Another nice touch: the pitcher of fresh limeade by the register.
3809 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood
Grazing through chef/brothers Lucio and Ismael Montero’s offerings at Brentwood’s Mixt Food Hall almost feels like a taco tasting menu, without the expense or fuss. Each individual creation we tried was unique and lovingly prepared: grilled shrimp tucked into a Chihuahua-cheese-coated tortilla with avocado sauce; smoky octopus under a tangle of pickled onions; and salmon “quesabirria” served alongside a delicate fish consommé for dipping. That each three-bite creation is around $5 or less feels like a steal—spend your extra dollars on sides such as papas a la diabla (spicy loaded fries) or a $9 cocktail at the food hall’s bar.
Taqueria el Cabrito
317 Buschs Frontage Rd., Annapolis
Our favorite pit stop close to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge takes some searching. But once you’ve discovered the taqueria tucked into an Exxon station off Route 50, you’ll never hit the Golden Arches again. Paper plates are best heaped with three tacos—we like lengua, chorizo, and fried pork—all showered with cilantro and onion, plus charred jalapeños, spring onions, and housemade salsas for dressing. Grab a bottle of Mexican cola plus ten napkins for the road.
Navy Yard, Brookland, Cleveland Park
The two most compelling tacos at these inventive taquerias are the meatfest known as campechano—a mix of steak, chorizo, pork rinds, and caramelized onions—and the simpler crispy-Brussels-sprout-and-avocado taco. More familiar takes are also expertly done: salsa-rojo-slicked lengua, saucy braised beef with pickled habaneros, and mahi-mahi with chipotle aïoli. Beyond tacos, there are savory chipotle meatballs and one of the best esquites around. Cocktails hit a high bar, too, especially the mezcal Negroni.