The 10 Tacos You Must Try in DC

By Rina Rapuano  |  April 29, 2014
Credit: Greg Powers

You could burn many a weekend afternoon hunting down the hidden-gem taquerias of DC's suburbs, like those to be found in Riverdale, Hyattsville - or even towns that weren't remotely on DC's map until a gas-station taqueria got the attention of Washingtonians. (That's a reference to R&R Taqueria in Elkridge, MD, for those of you who aren't taco obsessives.) But there are an increasing number of respectable taco joints right here in DC, and we found eight - plus two outstanding chef-y versions in the 'burbs - that should be on your radar. 

And with this, Zagat kicks off its Taco Tuesday, both in preparation for next week's Cinco de Mayo - and because we could all use the illusion of summer sun (and promise of summer fun) right about now. 

  • Fried Fish Taco at Fish Taco

    Why We Love It: The signature fried-fish tacos - flour tortillas filled with beer-battered fish - gain crunch and flavor from pickled cabbage slaw and a charred-corn mayo. Chef Michael Harr lends another layer of flavor by adding ancho and guajillo chiles to the batter.
    Insider Tip: Chile-pepper heads should know that these aren't spicy tacos. Chef Harr says his customers clamored for him to turn down the heat, so he did.
    Price: $9.95 for two tacos with a choice of rice and beans or salad

    7945 MacArthur Blvd., Cabin John, MD; 301-229-0900

  • Al Pastor Taco at Agua 301

    Why We Love It: These al pastor tacos - filled with crispy pork belly, pineapple habanero salsa, al pastor aïoli and salsa de arbol - are a modern spin on one of our favorite classic tacos.
    Insider Tip: The water view from the dining room is fine, but the best time to come is on sunny days when the patio is open.
    Price: $10 for two tacos plus rice and black beans

    301 Water St. SE; 202-484-0301

  • Credit: Rina Rapuano

    Carnitas Tacos at Oyamel

    Why We Love It: These aren't just any old carnitas tacos - these are carnitas the Jose Andres way. This taco is stuffed with a confit of baby pig with green tomatillo sauce, onions and cilantro. The pièce de résistance? Crispy pork rinds line the top.
    Insider Tip: If you find yourself at the bar here after 10 PM Sunday through Wednesday or after 11 PM Thursday through Saturday, try the outstanding taco de suadero filled with braised, sliced and grilled local brisket with salsa verde, onions and cilantro ($4.50) currently available only on the late-night menu. Also, this place makes its own tortillas - a touch that makes a huge difference.
    Price: $4 apiece

    401 Seventh St. NW; 202-628-1005

  • Credit: Greg Powers

    Spicy 'Shroom Taco at Taco Bamba

    Why We Love It: Chef Victor Albisu's lone veggie taco calls for cooking the mushrooms in butter, garlic and chipotle peppers and deglazing the pan with a generous amount of lime juice. The taco is finished with corn, cilantro, pickled heart of palm and cotija cheese - and is every bit as flavor-packed as their meaty cohorts.
    Insider Tip: The menu features both traditional tacos and nuevo tacos like the Spicy 'Shroom and a killer fried-fish taco called the Black Pearl. The place also serves breakfast, and there's a great rice pudding with a prize of dulce de leche at the bottom.
    Price: $4 apiece

    2190 Pimmit Dr., Idylwood, VA; 703-639-0505

  • Credit: Patrick Onofre

    Fish Taco at El Rey

    Why We Love It: You may have guessed by now that we kind of have a thing for fish tacos. In our defense, both times we tried a variety of tacos here, everyone at the table heartily agreed that the fish tacos were the best. This one is gilded with marinated, grilled tilapia, jicama-carrot slaw, tomatillo-avocado sauce and chipotle aïoli.
    Insider Tip: There's a rotating selection of special tacos that could include tongue, Peking duck, rabbit or bulgogi. 
    Price: $4 apiece

    919 U St. NW; 202-506-6418

  • Basic Breakfast Taco at District Taco

    Why We Love It: There are few things more comforting than softly scrambled egg tucked into a warm flour tortilla, and this rapidly expanding local chain has three breakfast tacos available all day. The basic is a simple filling of scrambled egg, cheese, potatoes and includes unlimited toppings.
    Insider Tip: There's a newly minted Downtown/Dupont location that opened just last week at 1919 M Street NW (202-888-9898).
    Price: $2.75 each or three for $7

    Multiple locations

  • Credit: Rina Rapuano

    Lengua Taco at Taqueria Distrito Federal

    Why We Love It: We often find beef tacos to be tough or ropy. But this beef-tongue taco - a traditional Mexican filling - has all the beefiness of a hearty, properly cooked stew beef, but with melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.
    Insider Tip: This place also serves breakfast, offers delivery within a two-mile radius and has weekend-only specials of pozole, menudo and tamales.
    Price: $3 apiece

    3463 14th St. NW, 202-276-7331; 805 Kennedy St. NW, 202-545-6990

  • Vegetarian Tacos at Chaia

    Why We Love It: Depending on the season, these "farm to taco" creations - which often feature ingredients found at the farmer's markets where they sling their tacos - could include potato and spring asparagus with a creamy poblano sauce; smoky zucchini with Bovre cheese and radish; or roasted winter squash with chiles, queso and mint. They also handcraft their tortillas.
    Insider Tip: Bill Yosses, executive pastry chef at the White House, is said to have developed quite the obsession with these tacos, which can be found at the nearby FreshFarm Market on Thursdays. One market rep says Yosses often sends White House staffers, including the Secret Service and the rest of the kitchen, over to try them. 
    Price: $10 (add a fried egg for $1 each)

    Check here for upcoming market and event appearances.

  • Credit: Rina Rapuano

    Al Pastor Tacos at Chupacabra

    Why We Love It: The meat, marinated in pineapple juice spiked with guajillo chiles, is slow-roasted on a spit and topped with juicy chunks of grilled pineapple, grated radish, onion and cilantro. 
    Insider Tip: Don't miss the rich and homey chicken tortilla soup and the warm, freshly fried tortilla chips with extra-limey guacamole. Menu items are kindly labeled as being dairy free, vegan and gluten free.
    Price: $3.25 each

    822 H St. NE; 202-505-4628

  • Credit: TaKorean

    Tangy Chicken Tacos at TaKorean

    Why We Love It: Hey, nobody said we had to feature Mexican tacos. These Korean-inspired fusion versions are best when ordered with everything, which means topped with Sriracha, lime crema, sesame seeds, cilantro and a choice of slaw. (For the record, we love the bulgogi beef and the special of pork ssam tacos, as well.)
    Insider Tip: The Union Market stall sells them at three for the price of two until 2 PM Tuesday through Friday. And if you can't get to Union Market, find the food truck on Twitter.
    Price: $3.50 apiece; three for $9

    1309 Fifth St. NE