Feature

10 Hottest Mexican Restaurants in DC

By Rina Rapuano  |  May 2, 2016

It hasn't been easy to find Mexican food in DC, with in-the-know Washingtonians heading to the Maryland suburbs for an authentic taste. But the options have been steadily growing — and with Cinco de Mayo on its way, we thought now is a great time to look at some of the city's hottest south-of-the-border fare. While these spots might not all register high on the authenticity scale, they each bring a special sizzle. 

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  • Credit: Rey Lopez

    Espita Mezcaleria

    Why It’s Hot: This long-awaited Mexican restaurant and mezcal bar opened in early March, bringing mezcal flights, handmade tortillas and moles to one of the city's hottest dining neighborhoods. Master mezcalier Josh Phillips and his wife, Kelly, own the spot and have tapped Alexis Samayoa — formerly of WD-50, La Esquina and El Vez in Manhattan — to serve as executive chef.
    Must-Order: Smoked eggplant with salsa borracha; fundido with ramps and pea tendrils; maitake mushroom or grilled tilapia tacos

    1250 Ninth St. NW; 202-621-9695

  • Taqueria Habanero

    Why It’s Hot: A married couple hailing from Puebla, Mexico is recreating the region’s dishes just north of Columbia Heights — and turning out a cadre of taco addicts and return customers in the process. Try something draped with strips of nopales (cactus), such as the huarache: a fresh masa tortilla filled with black bean purée and topped with meat, cheese, nopales and cilantro.
    Must-Order: Tacos — we loved the al pastor, mushroom and shrimp versions; vegetarian huarache

    3710 14th St. NW; 202-722-7700

  • Credit: El Sol/Facebook

    El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria

    Why It’s Hot: When you fuse the precision and sensibilities of a trained chef with the homestyle flavors and techniques of a Mexican grandmother, magic is bound to happen. And magic is definitely happening at this Logan Circle spot run by Mexico City-born sibs Alfredo Solis, formerly of Fuego Cocina y Tequileria, and his sister, Jessica. 
    Must-Order: Oysters al carbon; pozole rojo; mole rojo

    1227 11th St. NW; 202-815-4789

  • Credit: Greg Powers

    Pepita Cantina

    Celebrity chef/restaurateur Mike Isabella’s desert-hued Ballston Mexican venture stocks some 100 tequilas and mezcals; trendy cocktails, tiki drinks and all-day happy hours with ever-changing specials ensue. Coastal-inspired street foods like tacos, elotes (grilled corn), ceviche and a sharable smoked short rib plate fuel the party. The space is an airy slate blue with subtle south-of-the-border accents like carved table legs and tiles.
    Must-Order: Chile-lime chicharrones; veggie tacos; nachitos

    4000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-312-0200

  • El Camino  

    Why It’s Hot: This hot spot in hipster-heavy Bloomingdale delivers its popular tacos, brunch dishes and fish-of-the-day specials on mismatched vintage china or skillets, with a backdrop of a retro-cool Chicano-Mexican space.
    Must-Order: Ceviche; chorizo and potato tacos; the cucumber margarita
    108 Rhode Island Ave. NW; 202-847-0419

  • El Chucho  

    Why It’s Hot: The colorful Columbia Heights double-decker was an instant hit for its upscale takes on Mexican street foods, its gorgeous deck and its tequila and mezcal collection — as well as its fantastic cocktails made with house sodas. 
    Must-Order: Corn on the cob; calabacita tacos; cemita classica
    3313 11th St. NW; 202-290-3313

  • Credit: Patrick Onofre

    El Rey  

    Why It’s Hot: This U Street cantina from the Hilton brothers — the team behind such places as Chez Billy and Marvin — boasts an ultra-cool space made from shipping containers, a retractable roof, brunch with bottomless Mimosas and Micheladas and a happy hour with $21 pitchers of Margaritas.
    Must-Order: Chips and guacamole; fish tacos; nachos
    919 U St. NW; 202-506-6418

  • Credit: Scott Suchman

    Fuego Cocina y Tequileria

    Why It's Hot: The transportive Clarendon spot is known for its great happy hour, its extensive tequila selection, fresh ingredients and good service.
    Must-Order: Tacos al pastor; seafood enchiladas; carne asada
    2800 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington571-970-2180

  • Impala Cantina y Taqueria  

    Why It’s Hot: This Atlas District cantina offers H Street NE their take on tacos, enchiladas and marinated proteins — including the housemade "chorifu," a vegan chorizo found in tacos and a burger here.
    Must-Order: Mole chicken wings; queso fundido with poblanos; lengua tacos; Paloma cocktails
    1358 H St. NE; 202-733-3427

  • Oyamel  

    Why It’s Hot: This longtime Penn Quarter favorite from José Andrés was one of the first to introduce Washingtonians to elevated Mexican cuisine, and it remains super-hot thanks to its consistency, creativity and quality.
    Must-Order: Queso fundido; Yucatán-style BBQ pork tacos; Oyamel margarita
    401 Seventh St. NW; 202-628-1005