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A fried oyster taco with red cabbage and chipotle aioli from Anafre
A fried oyster taco with red cabbage and chipotle aioli from Anafre
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

Where to Find Outstanding Mexican Food Around D.C.

A steadily rising Mexican restaurant scene offers a bounty of tacos, tortas, enchiladas, moles, and more

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A fried oyster taco with red cabbage and chipotle aioli from Anafre
| Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

For all its hype as an international city, D.C. has never been labeled as a bastion of traditional Mexican food. The District is better known for its robust Salvadoran population, which has produced a legacy of Sal-Mex spots. Many immigrant communities have flocked to more affordable rents in areas such as Falls Church, Virginia, or Prince George’s County, Maryland, where places like Taqueria La Placita and Taqueria El Mexicano have become pillars of the community. In the past 15 years or so, though, the Mexican food scene in D.C. has undergone a major come-up. Just look to the stretch of 14th Street NW between Columbia Heights and Petworth, where Taqueria Habanero, Mezcalero, and Anafre offer destination-worthy tacos, enchiladas, and campechana on the same block, and mole-ladling newcomer DC Corazon is just a few steps away. High-end venues like Oyamel, Espita, Mi Vida, and (now-closed) Poca Madre have showcased fine dining that’s a worth a splurge, too.

This map focuses on Mexican restaurants that showcase a well-rounded variety of staples, including tortas, tostadas, tlayudas, molletes, chilaquiles, chile relleno, tres leches cake, and more. With a few exceptions, it’s not a group that includes Sal-Mex, Tex-Mex, or counters and trucks that specialize solely in tacos.

Restaurants on this map may temporarily close due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, so check with a business before showing up. D.C. allows indoor dining at 25 percent capacity. Many restaurants offer outdoor seating, but this should not be taken as endorsement for dining out, as there are still safety concerns. The Washington Post is tracking coronavirus cases and deaths in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. More information can be found at coronavirus.dc.gov. Studies indicate that there is a lower exposure risk when outdoors, but the level of risk involved with patio dining is contingent on restaurants following strict social distancing and other safety guidelines.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Cafe Bueno

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255 E 4th St
Frederick, MD 21701
(301) 620-8858
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Don’t be fooled by the small size of this compact eatery in downtown Frederick. What it lacks in space, it compensates in flavor. The tortilla chips, salsa verde, and salsa roja are always fresh. For traditional Mexican breakfast, Cafe Bueno serves huevos rancheros, huevos con chorizo, and huevos a la Mexicana (scambled with tomatoes, onions, and jalapeno) all day long. The fajitas are worth trying, too, showcasing peppery meats that have been marinating for hours. — Mekita Rivas

2. La Viña Mexican Grill

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16533 S Frederick Ave #1221
Gaithersburg, MD 20877
(301) 519-9278
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This unassuming strip mall spot serves several platters that promise days worth of leftovers. The Sinaloa platter comes with a chicken tamale, a chicken enchilada, and a cheese-stuffed chile relleno, all complemented by pinto beans, Mexican rice, sour cream, and pico de gallo. Don’t skip dessert, especially the dense and decadent homemade tres leches cake topped with whipped cream. — M.R.

3. Taqueria El Mexicano

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7811 Riggs Rd
Adelphi, MD 20783
(301) 434-0104

Taqueria is in the title, but this strip mall spot, tucked just inside the Beltway in Adelphi, Maryland, offers a full-on fonda experience. A small dining room with tables covered in green-and-white checkered cloth is the stage for a midnight-black mole Poblano that’s captured the attention of critics for years. Simpler pleasures like rich, creamy refried beans stand out, too. Proprietors Bernardo and Clara Vargas also own Panaderia El Mexicano, the bakery in the same lot. — Gabe Hiatt

Taqueria El Mexicano for the $20 Diner for Feb. 12 issue of Weekend.
Tacos queritos and tamales at Taqueria El Mexicano
Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

4. Cielo Rojo Restaurant

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7056 Carroll Ave
Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 755-0833
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David Perez and Carolina McCandless, the owners of this tidy cocina in Takoma Park, first met while working together at an organic vegetarian Mexican restaurant in San Francisco, so it stands to reason they put a a premium on ingredients. Perez leads the kitchen, grinding masa from heirloom Mexican corn and braising slightly sweet carnitas with Negra Modelo and oranges. Crunchy pepitas add a pleasantly surprising crunch to quesadillas that can be ordered with vegan cashew cheese. Four different tortas are available for lunch on Thursdays, and weekend brunch brings an opportunity to sample masa waffles served sweet, with fruit, mezcal mascarpone, and maple syrup, or savory, with smoked ham, Oaxacan cheese, queso fresco, and jalapeno vinaigrette. Order for takeout or on a patio via QR code. — G.H.

Quesadillas from Cielo Rojo
Quesadillas from Cielo Rojo
The Washington Post via Getty Images

5. Muchas Gracias

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5029 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 244-5000
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In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, chef Christian Irabién introduced Muchas Gracias as a pop-up that helps raise funds for immigrant communities and restaurant workers in need. More than a year later, the name stuck, and the formerly takeout-only operation has bloomed into a full-fledged restaurant with patio tables in the rear parking lot. Irabién, who spent much of his youth in Chihuahua and at his grandfather’s restaurant in El Paso, and his kitchen crew turn out supple flour tortillas for quesadillas and burritos that can satisfy the abundance of young families in the Chevy Chase neighborhood. But Muchas Gracias has multiple personalities, at times traditionalist (try chile Colorado pork tamales on Sundays), irreverent (see the carne asada disco fries) and tweezer-toting; yellow flowers and watermelon radishes add color to dishes like smoked trout tostadas and cheesy ramp enchiladas. — G.H.

A smoked trout tostada full of flowers and radishes from Muchas Gracias
A smoked trout tostada full of flowers and radishes from Muchas Gracias
Gabe Hiatt/Eater D.C.

6. Taqueria La Placita

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5020 Edmonston Rd
Hyattsville, MD 20781
(301) 277-4477

The pictographic menu at La Placita boasts 20 different tacos, offering specialties and off-cuts such as cecina (salty dried beef), oreja (pig ear), and trompa — labeled in English as pig lip but technically part of the snout — that’s braised until it yields a rich texture not all that different from the fat cap of a ribeye steak. Even late in the afternoon on a weekday, there’s a line for the ordering counter at the expansive taqueria that appears to be the epicenter of the “Little Mexico” along Edmonston Road in Hyattsville. Regulars will feel the empty dining room is jarring, but the outdoor setup is impressive, with picnic tables painted like the Mexican flag spread out around a fountain underneath a white tent with its own bar full of aguas frescas. Visit La Flor de Puebla bakery next-door for a slice of tres leches cake, or La Sirenita down the street for seafood soups that fill up two quart containers per takeout order. — G.H.

Weekend Cover - Tacos - Taqueria La Placita
A plate of tacos from Taqueria La Placita
Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

7. DC Corazon

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3903-3905 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20011
(202) 481-0511
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The newest restaurant on this map, opened just in March 2021, looks like it came out of a Lite Brite box. Owner Josefina Darui painted the facade fuscia, splashed the dining room walls with canary yellow and deep ocean blue, and commissioned cocktails in other neon-glow colors. Chef Antonio Pastora’s mole, by contrast, is chocolate-tinged red but just as memorable. Order it on chicken leg or a plate of “mole mignon” with shrimp and a side of soft blue corn tortillas. Customers will also find one of the more intriguing vegetarian tacos around town: jamaica (hibiscus flowers) sauteed in achiote paste for al pastor preparation. There’s online ordering, indoor or outdoor dining, and lunch specials that range from $6.99 to $12.99. — G.H.

Pollo con Mole (chicken topped with red mole, served with rice and fresh tortillas) from Corazon.
Pollo con mole from D.C. Corazon
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

8. Taqueria Habanero (Multiple Locations)

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3710 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 722-7700
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Over its first seven years, Taqueria Habanero has built up a loyal base of regulars willing to queue up on 14th Street NW for a table. The family-owned operation by chef couple Dio Montero and Mirna Alvarado offers up a taste of street food from the Montero’s native Puebla. Served on perfectly crisp corn tortillas, the shrimp and fish tacos in particular are fresh, flavorful, and filling, striking just the right balance between savory and zesty. Enchiladas verdes and chilaquiles (green or red) are spot on, too. There’s a sister location that caters to University of Maryland students in College Park. Closer to the original, the owners’ Tequila y Mezcal bar on 14th Street NW offers plenty of cocktails made with agave spirits and a pan-regional food menu. — M.R.

Chicken enchiladas from Taqueria Habanero
Chicken enchiladas from Taqueria Habanero
Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images

9. Anafre DC

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3704 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 758-2127
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When he debuted Anafre in November 2019, months before the pandemic hit D.C., Alfredo Solis separated it from his other D.C. restaurants with a focus on coastal dishes like Yucatan shrimp tostadas, fried oyster tacos, and vuelve a la vida, a spicy Sinaloan-style seafood cocktail brimming with crab, shrimp, octopus, and oysters. Those three remain, but the chef has adapted by adding a pizza oven to fire off chile relleno pies and a section of sandwiches such as a grilled steak jibarito with caramelized onions and cilantro jalapeno aioli. There’s a small patio out front for takeout. — G.H.

A molcajete at Anafre full of Sinaloan-style vuelve a la vida ceviche with crab, oyster, and octopus in a spicy seafood sauce
A Sinaloan-style vuelve a la vida seafood cocktail with crab, oyster, and octopus from Anafre
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

10. Taqueria Xochi

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924 U St NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 292-2859
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The carryout window with the hot pink facade on U Street NW can barely contain everything chef Teresa Padilla, who grew up in the interior state of Tlaxcala, is excited to cook. Now that she has her own place, the longtime pastry chef in José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup imports hubcap-sized tortillas from Oaxaca to make tlayudas covered in pieces of beef tenderloin, chorizo, nopales, gooey strands of cheese, refried beans, and avocado. There are all sorts of tacos, but also bowls of equites (street corn salad) deglazed in a fiery pan, individual containers of chocoflan, and chamoy-tinged go-cups of frozen mangonada smoothies. Before Padilla and business partner Geraldine Mendoza started a ghost kitchen in response to pandemic-induced layoffs, devotees of cemitas tortas had to travel to Taqueria 3 Reyes in Riverdale, Maryland, to find anything close. — G.H.

A close-up of an open-faced cemitas sandwich with a fresh bun, mayo, a breaded chicken cutlet, tomatoes, avocados, and a heaping pile of stringy Oaxaca cheese
A close-up of an open-faced cemitas torta with a fresh sesame seed bun, mayo, a breaded chicken cutlet, tomatoes, avocados, and a heaping pile of stringy Oaxaca cheese
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

11. Espita

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1250 9th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 621-9695
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This sleek, upscale restaurant with a Southern Mexican focus prides itself on being “authentic, not traditional,” so it’s not the place to go for tacos by the dozen. It is, however, a happy hour and brunch favorite. This prime people-watching spot is ideal for sipping on classic margaritas (here made with tequila blanco, triple sec, lime juice and “nogave”) while snacking on small plates like tostada con carne apache (wagyu beef crudo, pickled radish, salsa macha) and alitas (one pound of chicken wings served with fresno butter sauce). Chefs Rob Aikens and Ben Tenner rely on Yesenia Neri Díaz, who grew up in the state of Guerrero, to lead masa production for tortillas made from heirloom Mexican corn. She’s a partner in the restaurant group’s new twin ventures, a taqueria and dressed-up cocina in La Cosecha market. — M.R.

Cooks finish heirloom corn tortillas on the plancha at Espita
Cooks finish heirloom corn tortillas on the plancha at Espita
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

12. El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria (Multiple locations)

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1227 11th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 815-4789
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Sibling chefs Alfredo and Jessica Solis opened El Sol in 2014, and D.C.’s Mexican food scene hasn’t been the same since. Try one of Alfredo’s favorite dishes, chilaquiles, or fried tortillas simmered in salsa with a side of runny eggs. When paired with carne asada, the dish manages to be an affordable breakfast that makes sense any time of day. Other standouts include the pambazos — tortas filled with mashed potatoes and chorizo and dripping with red guajillo chile sauce — and molletes — toast covered in black beans, cheese, chorizo and pico de gallo. El Sol has a Vienna, Virginia location, and sibling locations of Mezcalero in D.C. and Alexandria offer a similar menu. — M.R.

El Sol chilaquiles
Chilaquiles with a carne asada add-on from El Sol
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

13. Taco Bamba (Multiple locations)

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2190 Pimmit Dr
Falls Church, VA 22043
(703) 639-0505
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With five Northern Virginia locations and a Rockville outpost in the works, Taco Bamba has established itself as a regional stronghold. Chef Victor Albisu’s irreverent, casual counters have all the taqueria essentials: tacos, tortas, tamales, Mexican street corn, and even bags of crunchy homemade chicharrones dusted in chipotle chile powder. Each location has its own section of “nuestros tacos” full of unexpected combos (think pork vindaloo or seared shrimp and spicy chorizo larb). — M.R.

A One Night in Bangkok taco incorporates Thai flavors with seared shrimp and chorizo larb, mint, basil, chiles, and crispy onions.
Taco Bamba Arlington’s One Night in Bangkok taco incorporates Thai flavors with seared shrimp and chorizo larb, mint, basil, chiles, and crispy onions.
Greg Powers/For Taco Bamba

14. Oyamel Cocina Mexicana

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401 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 628-1005
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José Andrés’s airy Mexican restaurant, located in Penn Quarter since 2007, is a high-end option downtown for made-to-order guacamole, antojitos (small plates) with a solid range of vegetables, and tacos like a Yucatán-style cochinita pibil (pit-cooked pig). Head chef Omar Rodriguez’s menu name-drops purveyors like Rancho Gordo beans and Anson Mills rice. Oyamel led the way for D.C. restaurants to grind their own Mexican heirloom corn. A new Butterfly Bodega offers tequila and mezcal, cocktail kits, and other merch. — G.H.

Tacos from Oyamel
Tacos from Oyamel
Greg Powers/For Oyamel

15. MI VIDA

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98 District Square SW
Washington, DC 20024
(202) 516-4656
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Ambitious, D.C.-based Knead Hospitality + Design brought New York chef Roberto Santibañez to town to serve as culinary director for this huge, artfully appointed waterfront restaurant with a prime position in the buzzy (and consistently pricey) Wharf development. By adding blue cheese, grapes, and smoked almonds to a guacamole perked up with pasilla chiles, customers can try one of the more interesting variations of the avocado dish for $17. Creamy, cheesy enchiladas Suizas are a hearty option, and are there are plenty of ways to enjoy seafood by the Potomac, notably an entree of butterflied, roasted branzino painted in red and green adobo. — G.H.

An order of pescado a la talla at Mi Vida includes red and green adobo
An order of pescado a la talla at Mi Vida includes red and green adobo
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

16. Wild Tacoz

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7167 Lee Hwy.
Falls Church, VA 22046
(703) 639-0199
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Vegetarians will appreciate the tacos filled with green beans, zucchini, squash, and tofu at this Falls Church restaurant. The braised, well-seasoned carnitas are available in a taco, burrito, or on a “tacoz sub” (a toasted roll). Culinary director Teddy Koumarianos is part Greek, so there’s a “Greek taco” served on a 7-inch pita with tzatziki sauce and the protein of your choice. — M.R.

17. Taco City DC

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1102 8th St SE, Washington
D.C., DC 20003
(202) 629-4012
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The homemade corn tortillas make all the difference at Taco City D.C., where the chilorio de res tacos (braised beef, avocado sauce, pickled habanero and cilantro) and the al pastor tacos (spit-grilled pork, pineapple, onion, cilantro and salsa roja) really shine. Pozole rojo — a rich Mexican pork and hominy stew topped with accompaniments including radish, lime and tortilla chips — is both comforting and restorative. — M.R.

18. La Union Restaurant

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5517 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22205
(703) 522-0134
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La Union opened in 1998 and has been an Arlington standby ever since. The family-run Mexican and Salvadoran restaurant offers favorites like savory taquitos and stuffed, 10-inch tortilla burritos, in addition to house specialties like brochette de pollo — marinated chicken grilled skewers, onions, tomatoes and green pepper topped with pico de gallo. Wash down entrees with a refreshing horchata that can double as dessert. — M.R.

19. Tortas Y Tacos La Chiquita

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2911 Columbia Pike
Arlington, VA 22204
(571) 970-2824
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This former food truck has turned into a full-fledged taqueria operation, and for good reason. The adobo-marinated chicken tacos are a must-have, as well as the torta chorizo that’s overflowing with sausage, lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, grilled and raw onions, mayonnaise, mustard, cheese and chiles. One spicy appetizer that will literally make mouths water: grilled jalapenos stuffed with Oaxaca cheese. — M.R.

20. El Paso | Mexican Restaurant (Multiple locations)

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3031 Golansky Blvd
Woodbridge, VA 22192
(703) 878-2856
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At El Paso’s five Northern Virginia locations, plates come stacked with generous portions. The lunch special lets customers select two entrees — a chile relleno, enchilada, burrito, tacos, quesadillas, or tamales — and get a side of rice and beans for just $6.25, arguably one of the area’s best value meals. — M.R.

1. Cafe Bueno

255 E 4th St, Frederick, MD 21701

Don’t be fooled by the small size of this compact eatery in downtown Frederick. What it lacks in space, it compensates in flavor. The tortilla chips, salsa verde, and salsa roja are always fresh. For traditional Mexican breakfast, Cafe Bueno serves huevos rancheros, huevos con chorizo, and huevos a la Mexicana (scambled with tomatoes, onions, and jalapeno) all day long. The fajitas are worth trying, too, showcasing peppery meats that have been marinating for hours. — Mekita Rivas

255 E 4th St
Frederick, MD 21701

2. La Viña Mexican Grill

16533 S Frederick Ave #1221, Gaithersburg, MD 20877

This unassuming strip mall spot serves several platters that promise days worth of leftovers. The Sinaloa platter comes with a chicken tamale, a chicken enchilada, and a cheese-stuffed chile relleno, all complemented by pinto beans, Mexican rice, sour cream, and pico de gallo. Don’t skip dessert, especially the dense and decadent homemade tres leches cake topped with whipped cream. — M.R.

16533 S Frederick Ave #1221
Gaithersburg, MD 20877

3. Taqueria El Mexicano

7811 Riggs Rd, Adelphi, MD 20783
Taqueria El Mexicano for the $20 Diner for Feb. 12 issue of Weekend.
Tacos queritos and tamales at Taqueria El Mexicano
Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Taqueria is in the title, but this strip mall spot, tucked just inside the Beltway in Adelphi, Maryland, offers a full-on fonda experience. A small dining room with tables covered in green-and-white checkered cloth is the stage for a midnight-black mole Poblano that’s captured the attention of critics for years. Simpler pleasures like rich, creamy refried beans stand out, too. Proprietors Bernardo and Clara Vargas also own Panaderia El Mexicano, the bakery in the same lot. — Gabe Hiatt

7811 Riggs Rd
Adelphi, MD 20783

4. Cielo Rojo Restaurant

7056 Carroll Ave, Takoma Park, MD 20912
Quesadillas from Cielo Rojo
Quesadillas from Cielo Rojo
The Washington Post via Getty Images

David Perez and Carolina McCandless, the owners of this tidy cocina in Takoma Park, first met while working together at an organic vegetarian Mexican restaurant in San Francisco, so it stands to reason they put a a premium on ingredients. Perez leads the kitchen, grinding masa from heirloom Mexican corn and braising slightly sweet carnitas with Negra Modelo and oranges. Crunchy pepitas add a pleasantly surprising crunch to quesadillas that can be ordered with vegan cashew cheese. Four different tortas are available for lunch on Thursdays, and weekend brunch brings an opportunity to sample masa waffles served sweet, with fruit, mezcal mascarpone, and maple syrup, or savory, with smoked ham, Oaxacan cheese, queso fresco, and jalapeno vinaigrette. Order for takeout or on a patio via QR code. — G.H.

7056 Carroll Ave
Takoma Park, MD 20912

5. Muchas Gracias

5029 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
A smoked trout tostada full of flowers and radishes from Muchas Gracias
A smoked trout tostada full of flowers and radishes from Muchas Gracias
Gabe Hiatt/Eater D.C.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, chef Christian Irabién introduced Muchas Gracias as a pop-up that helps raise funds for immigrant communities and restaurant workers in need. More than a year later, the name stuck, and the formerly takeout-only operation has bloomed into a full-fledged restaurant with patio tables in the rear parking lot. Irabién, who spent much of his youth in Chihuahua and at his grandfather’s restaurant in El Paso, and his kitchen crew turn out supple flour tortillas for quesadillas and burritos that can satisfy the abundance of young families in the Chevy Chase neighborhood. But Muchas Gracias has multiple personalities, at times traditionalist (try chile Colorado pork tamales on Sundays), irreverent (see the carne asada disco fries) and tweezer-toting; yellow flowers and watermelon radishes add color to dishes like smoked trout tostadas and cheesy ramp enchiladas. — G.H.

5029 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008

6. Taqueria La Placita

5020 Edmonston Rd, Hyattsville, MD 20781
Weekend Cover - Tacos - Taqueria La Placita
A plate of tacos from Taqueria La Placita
Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The pictographic menu at La Placita boasts 20 different tacos, offering specialties and off-cuts such as cecina (salty dried beef), oreja (pig ear), and trompa — labeled in English as pig lip but technically part of the snout — that’s braised until it yields a rich texture not all that different from the fat cap of a ribeye steak. Even late in the afternoon on a weekday, there’s a line for the ordering counter at the expansive taqueria that appears to be the epicenter of the “Little Mexico” along Edmonston Road in Hyattsville. Regulars will feel the empty dining room is jarring, but the outdoor setup is impressive, with picnic tables painted like the Mexican flag spread out around a fountain underneath a white tent with its own bar full of aguas frescas. Visit La Flor de Puebla bakery next-door for a slice of tres leches cake, or La Sirenita down the street for seafood soups that fill up two quart containers per takeout order. — G.H.

5020 Edmonston Rd
Hyattsville, MD 20781

7. DC Corazon

3903-3905 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20011
Pollo con Mole (chicken topped with red mole, served with rice and fresh tortillas) from Corazon.
Pollo con mole from D.C. Corazon
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

The newest restaurant on this map, opened just in March 2021, looks like it came out of a Lite Brite box. Owner Josefina Darui painted the facade fuscia, splashed the dining room walls with canary yellow and deep ocean blue, and commissioned cocktails in other neon-glow colors. Chef Antonio Pastora’s mole, by contrast, is chocolate-tinged red but just as memorable. Order it on chicken leg or a plate of “mole mignon” with shrimp and a side of soft blue corn tortillas. Customers will also find one of the more intriguing vegetarian tacos around town: jamaica (hibiscus flowers) sauteed in achiote paste for al pastor preparation. There’s online ordering, indoor or outdoor dining, and lunch specials that range from $6.99 to $12.99. — G.H.

3903-3905 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20011

8. Taqueria Habanero (Multiple Locations)

3710 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20010
Chicken enchiladas from Taqueria Habanero
Chicken enchiladas from Taqueria Habanero
Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Over its first seven years, Taqueria Habanero has built up a loyal base of regulars willing to queue up on 14th Street NW for a table. The family-owned operation by chef couple Dio Montero and Mirna Alvarado offers up a taste of street food from the Montero’s native Puebla. Served on perfectly crisp corn tortillas, the shrimp and fish tacos in particular are fresh, flavorful, and filling, striking just the right balance between savory and zesty. Enchiladas verdes and chilaquiles (green or red) are spot on, too. There’s a sister location that caters to University of Maryland students in College Park. Closer to the original, the owners’ Tequila y Mezcal bar on 14th Street NW offers plenty of cocktails made with agave spirits and a pan-regional food menu. — M.R.

3710 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20010

9. Anafre DC

3704 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20010
A molcajete at Anafre full of Sinaloan-style vuelve a la vida ceviche with crab, oyster, and octopus in a spicy seafood sauce
A Sinaloan-style vuelve a la vida seafood cocktail with crab, oyster, and octopus from Anafre
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

When he debuted Anafre in November 2019, months before the pandemic hit D.C., Alfredo Solis separated it from his other D.C. restaurants with a focus on coastal dishes like Yucatan shrimp tostadas, fried oyster tacos, and vuelve a la vida, a spicy Sinaloan-style seafood cocktail brimming with crab, shrimp, octopus, and oysters. Those three remain, but the chef has adapted by adding a pizza oven to fire off chile relleno pies and a section of sandwiches such as a grilled steak jibarito with caramelized onions and cilantro jalapeno aioli. There’s a small patio out front for takeout. — G.H.

3704 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20010

10. Taqueria Xochi

924 U St NW, Washington, DC 20001
A close-up of an open-faced cemitas sandwich with a fresh bun, mayo, a breaded chicken cutlet, tomatoes, avocados, and a heaping pile of stringy Oaxaca cheese
A close-up of an open-faced cemitas torta with a fresh sesame seed bun, mayo, a breaded chicken cutlet, tomatoes, avocados, and a heaping pile of stringy Oaxaca cheese
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

The carryout window with the hot pink facade on U Street NW can barely contain everything chef Teresa Padilla, who grew up in the interior state of Tlaxcala, is excited to cook. Now that she has her own place, the longtime pastry chef in José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup imports hubcap-sized tortillas from Oaxaca to make tlayudas covered in pieces of beef tenderloin, chorizo, nopales, gooey strands of cheese, refried beans, and avocado. There are all sorts of tacos, but also bowls of equites (street corn salad) deglazed in a fiery pan, individual containers of chocoflan, and chamoy-tinged go-cups of frozen mangonada smoothies. Before Padilla and business partner Geraldine Mendoza started a ghost kitchen in response to pandemic-induced layoffs, devotees of cemitas tortas had to travel to Taqueria 3 Reyes in Riverdale, Maryland, to find anything close. — G.H.

924 U St NW
Washington, DC 20001

11. Espita

1250 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Cooks finish heirloom corn tortillas on the plancha at Espita
Cooks finish heirloom corn tortillas on the plancha at Espita
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

This sleek, upscale restaurant with a Southern Mexican focus prides itself on being “authentic, not traditional,” so it’s not the place to go for tacos by the dozen. It is, however, a happy hour and brunch favorite. This prime people-watching spot is ideal for sipping on classic margaritas (here made with tequila blanco, triple sec, lime juice and “nogave”) while snacking on small plates like tostada con carne apache (wagyu beef crudo, pickled radish, salsa macha) and alitas (one pound of chicken wings served with fresno butter sauce). Chefs Rob Aikens and Ben Tenner rely on Yesenia Neri Díaz, who grew up in the state of Guerrero, to lead masa production for tortillas made from heirloom Mexican corn. She’s a partner in the restaurant group’s new twin ventures, a taqueria and dressed-up cocina in La Cosecha market. — M.R.

1250 9th St NW
Washington, DC 20001

12. El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria (Multiple locations)

1227 11th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
El Sol chilaquiles
Chilaquiles with a carne asada add-on from El Sol
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

Sibling chefs Alfredo and Jessica Solis opened El Sol in 2014, and D.C.’s Mexican food scene hasn’t been the same since. Try one of Alfredo’s favorite dishes, chilaquiles, or fried tortillas simmered in salsa with a side of runny eggs. When paired with carne asada, the dish manages to be an affordable breakfast that makes sense any time of day. Other standouts include the pambazos — tortas filled with mashed potatoes and chorizo and dripping with red guajillo chile sauce — and molletes — toast covered in black beans, cheese, chorizo and pico de gallo. El Sol has a Vienna, Virginia location, and sibling locations of Mezcalero in D.C. and Alexandria offer a similar menu. — M.R.

1227 11th St NW
Washington, DC 20001

13. Taco Bamba (Multiple locations)

2190 Pimmit Dr, Falls Church, VA 22043
A One Night in Bangkok taco incorporates Thai flavors with seared shrimp and chorizo larb, mint, basil, chiles, and crispy onions.
Taco Bamba Arlington’s One Night in Bangkok taco incorporates Thai flavors with seared shrimp and chorizo larb, mint, basil, chiles, and crispy onions.
Greg Powers/For Taco Bamba

With five Northern Virginia locations and a Rockville outpost in the works, Taco Bamba has established itself as a regional stronghold. Chef Victor Albisu’s irreverent, casual counters have all the taqueria essentials: tacos, tortas, tamales, Mexican street corn, and even bags of crunchy homemade chicharrones dusted in chipotle chile powder. Each location has its own section of “nuestros tacos” full of unexpected combos (think pork vindaloo or seared shrimp and spicy chorizo larb). — M.R.

2190 Pimmit Dr
Falls Church, VA 22043

14. Oyamel Cocina Mexicana

401 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20004
Tacos from Oyamel
Tacos from Oyamel
Greg Powers/For Oyamel

José Andrés’s airy Mexican restaurant, located in Penn Quarter since 2007, is a high-end option downtown for made-to-order guacamole, antojitos (small plates) with a solid range of vegetables, and tacos like a Yucatán-style cochinita pibil (pit-cooked pig). Head chef Omar Rodriguez’s menu name-drops purveyors like Rancho Gordo beans and Anson Mills rice. Oyamel led the way for D.C. restaurants to grind their own Mexican heirloom corn. A new Butterfly Bodega offers tequila and mezcal, cocktail kits, and other merch. — G.H.

401 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20004

15. MI VIDA

98 District Square SW, Washington, DC 20024
An order of pescado a la talla at Mi Vida includes red and green adobo
An order of pescado a la talla at Mi Vida includes red and green adobo
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

Ambitious, D.C.-based Knead Hospitality + Design brought New York chef Roberto Santibañez to town to serve as culinary director for this huge, artfully appointed waterfront restaurant with a prime position in the buzzy (and consistently pricey) Wharf development. By adding blue cheese, grapes, and smoked almonds to a guacamole perked up with pasilla chiles, customers can try one of the more interesting variations of the avocado dish for $17. Creamy, cheesy enchiladas Suizas are a hearty option, and are there are plenty of ways to enjoy seafood by the Potomac, notably an entree of butterflied, roasted branzino painted in red and green adobo. — G.H.

98 District Square SW
Washington, DC 20024

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16. Wild Tacoz

7167 Lee Hwy., Falls Church, VA 22046

Vegetarians will appreciate the tacos filled with green beans, zucchini, squash, and tofu at this Falls Church restaurant. The braised, well-seasoned carnitas are available in a taco, burrito, or on a “tacoz sub” (a toasted roll). Culinary director Teddy Koumarianos is part Greek, so there’s a “Greek taco” served on a 7-inch pita with tzatziki sauce and the protein of your choice. — M.R.

7167 Lee Hwy.
Falls Church, VA 22046

17. Taco City DC

1102 8th St SE, Washington, D.C., DC 20003

The homemade corn tortillas make all the difference at Taco City D.C., where the chilorio de res tacos (braised beef, avocado sauce, pickled habanero and cilantro) and the al pastor tacos (spit-grilled pork, pineapple, onion, cilantro and salsa roja) really shine. Pozole rojo — a rich Mexican pork and hominy stew topped with accompaniments including radish, lime and tortilla chips — is both comforting and restorative. — M.R.

1102 8th St SE, Washington
D.C., DC 20003

18. La Union Restaurant

5517 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22205

La Union opened in 1998 and has been an Arlington standby ever since. The family-run Mexican and Salvadoran restaurant offers favorites like savory taquitos and stuffed, 10-inch tortilla burritos, in addition to house specialties like brochette de pollo — marinated chicken grilled skewers, onions, tomatoes and green pepper topped with pico de gallo. Wash down entrees with a refreshing horchata that can double as dessert. — M.R.

5517 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22205

19. Tortas Y Tacos La Chiquita

2911 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204

This former food truck has turned into a full-fledged taqueria operation, and for good reason. The adobo-marinated chicken tacos are a must-have, as well as the torta chorizo that’s overflowing with sausage, lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, grilled and raw onions, mayonnaise, mustard, cheese and chiles. One spicy appetizer that will literally make mouths water: grilled jalapenos stuffed with Oaxaca cheese. — M.R.

2911 Columbia Pike
Arlington, VA 22204

20. El Paso | Mexican Restaurant (Multiple locations)

3031 Golansky Blvd, Woodbridge, VA 22192

At El Paso’s five Northern Virginia locations, plates come stacked with generous portions. The lunch special lets customers select two entrees — a chile relleno, enchilada, burrito, tacos, quesadillas, or tamales — and get a side of rice and beans for just $6.25, arguably one of the area’s best value meals. — M.R.

3031 Golansky Blvd
Woodbridge, VA 22192

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