Meet the Restaurant Families Serving Up the Best Tacos in Washington

Clans big and small are working together to create taco greatness.

Jessica and Alfredo Solis. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

The Empire Builders: Jessica and Alfredo Solis

El Sol, Mezcalero, Anafre, and Mariscos 1133

The backstory

The Mexico City–born brother and sister—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 siblings at work in their kitchen at Mezcalero. Photograph by Jeff Elkins
Mezcalero’s bountiful molcajete, a feast of steak, shrimp, chicken, queso fundido, and more. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

What we love about the restaurants

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.

Dionicio Montero and Mirna Montero-Alvarado (center, in aprons) surrounded by the family members who work in their restaurants. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

The Traditionalists: Mirna Montero-Alvarado, Dionicio Montero, and family

Taqueria Habanero

The backstory

Long before DC chefs were boasting of scratch tortillas and salsas, this husband-and-wife team—he’s from Puebla, she’s from El Salvador—were crafting their own masa rounds and charring peppers. They began selling Mexican food as a farmers-­market side hustle, then quit their full-time jobs when Mirna saw a vacant store­front in Columbia Heights. There, Habanero (3710 14th St., NW) was born in 2014. A bigger, brighter College Park location (8145 Baltimore Ave.) debuted in 2018. Now Mirna and Dio employ nine family members.

Tacos on handmade tortillas. Photographs by Jeff Elkins

What we love about the restaurants

The menu of street-style tacos 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.

Family collaborators Herson Romero, Reyna Romero, Bertha Soriano, Pedro Soriano Jr., and Pedro Soriano. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

The Pandemic Successes: Pedro Soriano, Bertha Soriano, and family

Tacos a la Madre

The backstory

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 (5010 Berwyn Rd., College Park) 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.

Quesotacos in the works. Photograph by Jeff Elkins
Other hits include shrimp, chicken, and pork tacos. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

What we love about the restaurant

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.

Carolina McCandless and David Perez with their son, Sage Alejandro. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

The Veggie Artists: David Perez and Carolina McCandless

Cielo Rojo

The backstory

Perez, who came to the US from Mexico when he was 17, ran the kitchen at the vegan hit Gracias Madre in San Francisco. There, he met—and later married—McCandless, the restaurant’s manager. Together, in 2019, they opened Takoma Park’s Cielo Rojo (7056 Carroll Ave.), where she’s the director of operations and he’s the chef.

Perez at the stove. Photograph by Jeff Elkins
Tacos, both mushroom-filled and meaty. Photograph by Scott Suchman

What we love about the restaurant

Perez’s vegetarian creations are where it’s at. Load up on lime-heavy guac; sweet-potato flautas and gorditas; and hearty mushroom- or nopales-stuffed tacos. The counter-order room is snug and can get crowded—happily, the restaurant is moving to a bigger space in the neighborhood later this year.

This article appears in the August 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.

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.