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Philly Favorite Buena Onda Will Blanket the D.C. Area With Fish Tacos

Chef Jose Garces’ casual taqueria kicks off a DMV-wide expansion in Rockville next year

Buena Onda’s menu takes tips from Baja California.
Michael Persico
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Iron Chef winner Jose Garces will bring his Philly seafood shack to D.C. in a big way, starting with a newly announced Rockville outpost set to open next year.

Translating to “good vibes” in Spanish, Buena Onda’s four fast-casual locations across Philly specialize in sustainably sourced seafood influenced by the Baja California coastline in Mexico.

Buena Onda’s first foray outside of home plans to start construction in early 2024 and open mid-year (12137 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland). Fish or Pacific shrimp tacos can be ordered battered and fried or grilled in a tequila lime glaze, served on a homemade flour tortilla with chipotle remoulade, avocado, red cabbage slaw, and scallions. Margaritas loop in fruits like guava, mango, pineapple, and strawberry, joined by frozen options, sangrias, Mexican beers, and aguas frescas.

Chef Jose Garces founded Buena Onda in 2015.

Garces and New Orleans-based Ballard Brands (PJ’s Coffee and WOW American Eats) announced plans in 2022 to take Buena Onda nationwide and just reached its first franchise licensing agreement. Operators Zong Chen and Alexis Chen will open five new Buena Ondas across the DMV and Northeast region as part of the deal, starting with the 2,000-square-foot Rockville locale.

Other restaurants under the local business partners’ umbrella include Takumi Sushi in Falls Church; Nan Xiang Express in Ellicott City, Maryland; and Top Pot & BBQ in College Park, with another en route to Ballston Quarter. The partners also run Chinatown’s sleek new food hall Luna Hall, which is home to Kung Fu Tea, TKK, Pollo Aria, and District Dumpling. Look for more Luna Halls to open down the line, some of which will have a Buena Onda inside.

“Zong and I are choosy about food,” says Alexis Chen, in a statement. “He is a chef himself and loves food. I just ate a lot throughout my tenure in consulting and came to love tacos after living 8 years in Southern California.”

The casual taqueria serves chips, salsas, and guac.
Buena Onda

Buena Onda also fills tacos and burritos with chipotle-braised chicken, red chile short rib, guajillo-glazed pork, tofu, or mushroom and kale. Customers can pick from the same proteins to build a bowl on a bed of white rice, brown rice or lettuce mix, along with spiced black beans, chipotle mayo, crema, queso fresco, carrot and cabbage slaw, and salsa.

Garces gave D.C. diners a temporary first taste of Buena Onda with a delivery-only offshoot in Arlington in 2021. His previous run in D.C. was with hotel steakhouse Rural Society, which closed in 2017.

The Ecuadorian American chef won a James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic for his work at Amada in Philadelphia in 2008.