This much I know: I love Mexican food. When I’ve traveled there, I’ve ignored warnings about stomach bugs and snagged tacos from street vendors. I’ve driven to the edges of town to find the most authentic burritos around. I still pine for the caramel-filled churro I stumbled across in Cabo San Lucas, and dodged the intoxicated masses each night in the hopes I’d rediscover the man with the cart who gave me my treat.
So in every city I’ve ever lived, I’ve made it my mission to bypass Chipotle in search of the best burritos, tacos, and other Mexican specialties around. In Boston, this meant Anna’s Taqueria, the ever-expanding independent chain that catered to college kids by serving a super burrito only slightly smaller than the size of your skull. Their carnitas are, as K.D. Lang would say, a constant craving. I ate my way through San Fransisco’s Mission District, where each little red basket provided a bounty of taco treasure. And I hit paydirt upon finding the Red Hook ballpark food vendors in Brooklyn, who serve up of glorious array of Mexican and South American dishes, each one better than the next.
So after being here in D.C. for two years, I can finally say I’ve found my fair share of good tacos. After the jump, you’ll get the lowdown on my list.
You’re on the National Mall, you’re hungry, and unfortunately all you have in the way of options is a lousy knish or a rubbery hot dog from one of the silver food carts parked along Independence Ave. All is not lost! If you have your wits about you and can stand a little extra walking, do I have a treat for you. Ann Cashion, one of D.C.’s most celebrated chefs, has a gem of a taco joint hidden behind one of her more upscale restaurants, Johnny’s Half Shell. If you walk toward the Capitol building and turn left up N. Capitol Street, head into the plaza behind Johnny’s and there on your left is Nacional. Inside you’ll find pork and chorizo wonders, served in delicious corn tortillas. Be sure to snag some horchata, it’s delightful. 400 N. Capitol St., NW Washington, DC 20001; +1 202 737 7070.
In the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood of Columbia Heights, where there’s both a Target and a Ruby Tuesday, this tiny, vibrant neighborhood joint still holds its own. Inside its avocado-green dining room decked with portraits of Mexican film stars, you’ll find a friendly staff and eleven kinds of tacos to choose from. Do yourself a favor and order the five-taco special so as best to compare the spicy kick of the chorizo against the salty goodness of the pork ribs. And the burrito is practially perfect: the wraps come toasted and firm, and won’t wilt as you eat your way through them. Their flan’s sweet, creamy texture somehow convinced me that I did indeed have more room in my stomach. I’m still not sure how. 3463 14th St. NW Washington, DC 20010; +1 202 276 7331.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
One of my favorite spots in the city, the country club would be a must-see on my list even if it didn’t serve up gorgeous chilaquiles, pork ribs, and enchiladas. The two-level restaurant and bar has a nine-hole minigolf course upstairs, which pays cheeky homage to D.C. (King Kong on the Washington Monument; a graveyard of dead presidents; a depiction of former Mayor Marion Barry’s face on a famous D.C. statue called The Awakening; above). The menu, which was designed by Ann Cashion and is excecuted by Chef Pablo Cardoso, consists of entrees in the fabulously-decorated upstairs restaurant (yes those are toasters standing in for lampshades), and small plates–lobster tostadas, meat pies, and tamales–in the bar area, which is also where you’ll find the skeeball machines and shuffleboard tables. Tacos and skeeball? I can’t think of anything better. 1335 H Street, NE, Washington DC 20002; 202 399 4722.
Did I miss a terrific D.C. taco hotspot? Or have a suggestion for where I should head next? I’m all ears.
Photos: Above, Janelle Nanos; below, Tim Corsi