Every Day is Taco Day at These Taquerias
Why only Tuesday? We would gladly eat at these soul-satisfying eateries every day of the week.
What’s not to love about tacos? They are filling, comforting, wallet-friendly and versatile—as many restless chefs have proved, stuffing tortillas with the flavors of Memphis, India, Jamaica and the Eastern Shore. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of places turning out time-tested originals like carnitas, lengua and carne asada, too. Whether your hankering skews traditional or nuevo, we’ve got a taqueria for you.
Brightly hued walls, trailing plants and smiling faces behind the counter add to the homey feel of this small and traditional Columbia Pike taqueria that got its start as a food truck. Besides tacos, you’ll also find open-faced huaraches and sopes with their masa-dough bases; tortas (sandwiches), as the name of the place suggests; and alambres—your choice of protein topped with sautéed bell peppers, grilled onions, melted cheese and a splash of chipotle sauce. But we’re here for the tacos, which are generously filled with tender lengua (chopped beef tongue), rich pork carnitas and the taco that’s definitely having a moment—birria, a specialty of Jalisco often made with goat and served with a side of consommé (broth) for dunking. Here, it’s made with beef, and you have to pay a little extra for consommé. Order ahead online for speedy pickup or for delivery from one of the apps since parking is scarce. // 2911 Columbia Pike, Arlington
When restaurateur brothers Ian and Eric Hilton open a new place, diners can count on outstanding cocktails, a fun vibe and spot-on flavors. At El Rey, a spinoff of their popular U Street taqueria that opened in Ballston just before the New Year, the grilled birria tacos have been an instant customer favorite. (The trendy filling, made here with beef, also lands in quesadillas, tortas and nachos.) Al pastor, carne asada and carnitas tacos share menu space with a “D.C. taco” filled with fried chicken strips, crispy potatoes and mambo sauce; a Thai shrimp taco; and one featuring Impossible meat. A patio is on tap when the weather turns nicer, according to the owners, who also run Café Colline in Arlington and Parc de Ville in the Mosaic District. Inside, enjoy vibrant murals by local artist Mike Pacheco and a color-popped industrial space, whether you’re knocking back a few frozen margaritas or picking up take-out. // 4201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington (Ballston)
Your first clue that this isn’t a mom-and-pop is the modern, chef-y menu, which unabashedly features Hawaiian poke and a sesame rib-eye taco topped with kimchi. Standouts at this chain found in nearly a dozen other states (and D.C.) include a fried oyster taco accented with remoulade; roasted duck with a tamarind glaze; and that beef number topped with kimchi. The chicken taco, sometimes regarded as a throwaway menu option for less adventurous eaters, gains welcome punches of flavor from a chili-herb marinade and avocado salsa. The Mosaic District location of Bartaco opened in 2018 and the Ballston outpost has been slinging tacos since January 2021. Both offer outdoor dining, online ordering, cocktails and a rotating secret taco that can be found using the hashtag #bartacosecret. // 4238 Wilson Blvd., Arlington (Ballston); 2920 District Ave., Fairfax (Mosaic District)
Wedged into a tiny plaza near Ballston, La Jarochita #2 may be a welcome antidote for anyone seeking a break from newfangled tacos. Here, as in Mexico, you’ll find all parts of the animal represented on the list of proteins, whether it’s tongue, head, brains, stomach or skin. A crowd favorite at this no-frills little sister to the Manassas original is the spit-roasted al pastor—a rich, sweet blend of pork, spices and pineapple that can be ordered in a taco, a gordita, or atop a sope, a tostada or a huarache. Experiment with the habanero, arbol and guacamole salsas to see which pairs best with each taco, or ask the staff for guidance. The menu also offers up soups, sandwiches, burritos, entrées and a few sides. // 85 N. Glebe Road, Arlington (Buckingham)
When the craving strikes for traditional carnitas or tinga, you cannot go wrong at Taco Bamba, thanks to the watchful eye of chef-owner Victor Albisu, who opened the original Falls Church location with his mother in 2013. But there are “tacos nuestros” too, such as the Spicy ’Shroom made with chipotle portabellas, and the namesake Taco Bamba—a whopper filled with skirt steak, chorizo, grilled guacamole, pickled red onion, pickled fresno chilies, cotija cheese, cilantro and chicharrones. Each of the seven locations also features a couple tacos specific to that spot, such as the La Poutina (exclusive to Falls Church) stuffed with fries soaking up barbacoa jus and topped with spicy mayo, pickled red onion, cotija cheese and bacon; or The Jeneral (in Ballston), which tucks seared ahi tuna, sesame salsa macha, pickled ginger slaw, guacamole and furikake into a cabbage cup. As a testament to its success, the homegrown taqueria recently penned a deal with Investors Management Corp. to grow the brand on a national level. // 4000 Wilson Blvd. (Ballston), Arlington; 2190 Pimmit Drive, Falls Church
This beloved local mini chain has grown to three locations—two in Arlington and one in Del Ray—since executive chef Glen Adams opened the first one in 1999. It’s now a DMV favorite (and Best of Arlington 2021 winner) for margaritas, its Southern California take on Mexican dishes, and for being the kind of place where everyone feels like a regular. In addition to the tacos al carbon on the Platos section of the menu and the tacos al pastor, available only after 5 p.m. among the appetizers, folks flock here for the popular duck carnitas, the Baja fish and the shrimp tacos, as well as the house-made salsas. There’s also an L.A.-style crispy taco stuffed with your choice of chicken, beef, pork or mixed veggies, and daily specials. The bar pours about a dozen types of margaritas made with freshly squeezed limes, and brunch turns up breakfast tacos and Mexican hash. The owners recently announced that their Columbia Pike location will be closing at the end of May 2022, so pay that spot a visit while you can. // 2503-A N. Harrison St. and 2401 Columbia Pike, Arlington; 2400-B Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria (Del Ray)
Is it even possible to be an Arlington resident if you haven’t tried District Taco? The booming chainlet that now operates 15 eateries in Virginia, Maryland, the District and Pennsylvania started as a food truck in Rosslyn in 2009, and folks clearly love its all-day breakfast tacos and its fast-casual ordering setup that allows for customization. You won’t find any fusion tacos here (co-founder Osiris Hoil is from the Mexican state of Yucatan), but the menu gives nods to American tastes by letting customers choose garnishes that are traditionally Mexican (cilantro and chopped onion), American (lettuce, pico and shredded cheese), or the granddaddy of topping choices, “el jefe” (American toppings, plus grilled veggies and sour cream). Burritos, quesadillas, nachos and rice bowls round out the tight but crowd-pleasing menu, and two vegan options—with a guacamole or a “beyond carne” base—are also available. // 1500 Wilson Blvd.(Rosslyn) and 5723 Langston Blvd., Arlington; 5275-C Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 2676-O Avenir Place, Vienna (Dunn Loring); 1500-C Cornerside Blvd., Tysons
David Peña’s beloved food truck, which has been making the rounds in Arlington since 2012, now has a small storefront in Falls Church, featuring art by local muralist MasPaz. It’s proving to maintain its reputation as a cult-status favorite for tacos, tostadas, elote, churros and more, with the lines to prove it. Try the birria (goat or beef) tacos with consomme for dipping, and an agua fresca. // 626 S. Washington St., Falls Church
With so many taquerias popping up over the past few years, how is a taco slinger to distinguish itself? Taco Rock seems to do just that by offering diners “tacos with attitude”—which is perhaps another way of saying: “Purists, beware.” Sure, there’s a roster of classics served on house-made blue corn tortillas, but the list of riffs is at least double the size. Next to carne asada, barbacoa and al pastor, you’ll find tortillas cradling balsamic mushrooms, a play on the club sandwich, and one named for Colonel Sanders appropriately stuffed with fried chicken, slaw, pickles and comeback sauce. Chef-owner Mike Cordero might be merely flirting with authenticity while catering to American palates, but it’s clearly working since his brand (which has eateries in Arlington and Alexandria) is about to expand with a third location in Falls Church. // 1501 Wilson Blvd., Arlington (Rosslyn)
This strip-mall taqueria shows off its Mexican pride with walls cheerfully painted in the bold colors of that country’s flag, plus a few artifacts that hail from the homeland like sombreros, statuettes and textiles. That pride also makes its way into the tacos, which follow the traditional layering of two griddled corn tortillas stuffed with the usuals, from chorizo to cabeza (head), and from chicken to tripe. But traditional doesn’t have to mean boring, as long as you’re doing it right, and it didn’t take long for this humble gem to land on the radar of a few local critics after it opened in 2018. Like many taquerias, this one eventually added the wildly popular birria (goat) tacos to its lineup, and in 2021 it scored a license to serve beer. If cerveza isn’t your jam, drink your way through the rainbow of Jarritos sodas in the cooler. Online ordering is available for a speedy pickup. // 7810-G Lee Highway, Falls Church
This Shirlington Village spot channels the colorful, beachy vibe of coastal Mexico while offering playful spins on traditional flavors—such as the pork carnitas marinated in orange Fanta and topped with dragon’s breath habanero, pineapple and pickled onion. Of course, any modern taqueria worth its salt can’t resist tossing in some Korean flavors, which admittedly do lend themselves nicely to tacos. Here, they appear in a fried chicken taco laced with “K-pop salsa” (a Korean hot sauce), chili-garlic mayo, cotija cheese and curtido, the slightly funky cabbage slaw normally served with pupusas. Don’t miss the crunchy-spicy shrimp tacos featuring sriracha mayo, shaved coconut and pineapple salsa; the Baja Bahia made with beer-battered, wild-caught Chesapeake catfish, avocado verde, lemon mayo and purple cabbage; or the hot mess nacho fries, which are every bit as decadent as they sound. Open since Cinco de Mayo 2020, chef Graham Bartlett’s friendly cantina also offers cocktails, catering and curbside pickup. // 4041 Campbell Ave., Arlington (Shirlington)
The chain that began as a taco-serving bus on the beaches of the Yucatan peninsula (and went on to launch 11 taquerias in New York City) has arrived at National Landing. Pretend you’re surfside in Mexico with an order of beer-battered fish tacos and an agua fresca. // 1550 Crystal Drive, Arlington (National Landing)