El Rey Taqueria Opens a Second Location in Ballston

Serving up margs, cocktails and Mexican street food, the Hilton Brothers' latest late-night spot is a spin-off of the original on U Street in D.C.
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El Rey’s 50-foot bar in Ballston is equipped with a dozen margarita machines and a dozen taps featuring Mexican and local craft brews. (Photo by Mykl Wu.)

El Rey, the ever-buzzy taqueria and beer garden on U Street in the District, now has a sister location in Ballston. The cantina offers taco and margarita aficionados on this side of the Potomac yet another dining and imbibing option—one that’s open late on weekends.

As of Dec. 20, thirsty patrons can pull up to a 50-foot, horseshoe shaped bar, or grab a seat one of the high-top tables to sip on margs, Micheladas, palomas, Mexican hot chocolate (with or without booze) and craft cocktails such as Ready Fire Aim (mezcal, lime juice, house-made honey-pineapple syrup, hellfire bitters) or the El Muchacho (reposado tequila, mezcal, Modelo syrup, mole bitters).

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The vivid decor includes loteria-style paintings by Mike Pacheco. (Photo by Mykl Wu.)

The food menu features a fiesta of munchies and hand-helds, including queso fundido, elote, five birria dishes and ten kinds of tacos—from traditional al pastor, pescado and adobo chicken to alternatives such as Thai shrimp with carrot-jicama slaw, and a plant-based taco stuffed with Impossible burger and poblano peppers.

Items exclusive to the Ballston location include a bevy of tortas, burritos and the Papas Birrias Nachos, a Mexican version of cheese fries piled high with braised beef, queso rojo, queso blanco, jalapenos, black beans and cilantro.

El Rey Ballston is the latest venture of brothers Ian and Eric Hilton, whose hospitality properties also include Café Colline in Arlington, Parc de Ville in the Mosaic District, The Brighton at the Wharf, and a handful of other D.C. -area hot spots. The Hiltons are also partners in Solace Outpost in Falls Church.

The lively cantina’s arrival in Arlington has been more than two years in the making, stymied by pandemic and supply-chain delays. (Read our 2021 interview with Ian Hilton, a longtime Arlington resident, about weathering the pandemic and the extreme challenges facing restaurateurs and hospitality workers.)

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The Lucha Libre takeout area. (Photo by Mykl Wu.)

But now it’s here, and the margaritas are flowing. Designed by SAINT Architecture & Interiors, the edgy, 6,290-square-foot space features concrete floors, tile-topped tables, beachy-hued bar stools, graffiti art and vibrant murals by local artist Mike Pacheco. The painted shipping container doors that hang behind the bar are a nod to the original El Rey (which is built out of shipping containers). A “Lucha Libre” takeout area near the front entrance, presided over by a comic-book-style painting of luchadors (Mexican freestyle wrestlers), presents an easy in-and-out spot for quick-serve and takeout orders.

The Lucha Libre section can also be reserved for small events and parties.

Located at 4201 Wilson Boulevard in the Ball Exchange development, El Rey Ballston is open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. 

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Categories: Food & Drink