Best Mexican restaurants in DC
Any restaurant with lauded chef Jose Andres’s name attached to it promises to be good and Oyamel is no exception. A date-night favorite of the Obamas, Oyamel features an array of antojitos—traditional Mexican small plates—that will transport your taste buds to Mexico. Start with the Salt Air margarita, which will make you feel like you’re on a beach in Cabo, and tableside guacamole made with green tomatillo, Serrano chile and queso fresco. If you’re in for weekend brunch, nuzzle over huevos rancheros and, for the grand finale, polish off a slice of tres leches cake served with caramel ice cream.
Celebrity chef and prolific restaurateur Richard Sandoval brings a little bit of his native Mexico City to Georgetown with El Centro D.F., serving traditional Mexican cuisine. The three-floor restaurant—outfitted in reclaimed wood, Mexican newspapers and vintage chandeliers—features three different sections: a taqueria serving grab-and-go tacos, an underground tequileria with over 200 different tequilas on offer and an upstairs rooftop complete with two alfresco bars. Every visit to El Centro D.F. will provide a different experience as chef Sandoval travels to a new region of Mexico twice a year to study their culinary traditions and create new menu additions that showcase those flavors.
With just one bite of celebrity chef Todd English and Tijuana-born chef JC Pavlovich's food, the experts' love for Mexican cuisine becomes apparent. Top menu items like the lobster and corn guac (made-to-order), beer-battered mahi mahi tacos (assembled with freshly made tortillas) and housemade chocolate mole sauce keep the locals coming back for more. If you're a tequila fan, you'll love this spot. There are over 100 different kinds offered here, which is fitting since the margaritas are the stars of the drink menu. The restaurant's elegant interiors—bathed in dark wood and accented with dazzling chandeliers—just add to the experience.
From the decor to the cuisine, you are transported to Southern Mexico—more specifically, Oaxaca—as soon as you walk into Espita Mezcaleria. Vibrant murals by revered Oaxacan street artists cover the walls, while steel surfaces and an exposed reclaimed wood ceiling give the space a more modern industrial vibe. The Shaw neighborhood restaurant shines a spotlight on the region's seven styles of mole alongside sopes and ceviches. The fact that the restaurant sources heirloom corn straight from Southern Mexico to grind their own masa and make hand-pressed tortillas every morning is quite impressive, as is their selection of over 100 mescals.
Chef Michael Schlow created Tico to serve as a culinary tribute to his travels to Latin America, Mexico and Spain. The menu here is far from traditional—and that's done on purpose. Chef Schlow is all about having fun and that's reflected not only in the menu, but also the decor. The space is bright and inviting and the walls are covered with colorful, Instagram-worthy graffiti art and dotted with some of Schlow's own photographs of Spain. Diners flock here for the ambiance as well as the raved-about cabbage salad, roasted cauliflower loaded with cotija cheese, sweet corn spiked with jalapeños and smoked bacon and the addictive hibiscus margaritas.
What started as a humble farmers' market stand in 2013 has since blossomed into a wildly popular taco empire. Founded by Suzanne Simon and Bettina Stern, the new vegetarian taco restaurant in Georgetown includes the same beloved tacos served on hand-pressed tortillas. New at the space: rotating sides like sweet potato gratin, as well as wine and beer on tap. Visit on the weekends, when you can add an egg to any taco for an additional charge.
The marvelous Mexican fare explains why political royalty (think Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Sonia Sotomayor) is addicted to this DC hotspot. The savory meat offerings are the stars on the menu, especially the shareable Cinco de Mayo platter featuring beef fajitas, pork ribs, Mexican rice and guac. However, the seafood list also shines with options like enchiladas de mariscos—flour tortillas brimming with shrimp, scallops and covered with gooey Monterey Jack cheese. And Lauriol Plaza isn't just a favorite for the food. The drinks are worthy of a visit all on their own. Every night is a party here thanks to Margarita Mondays, Sangria Tuesdays and Mojito Wednesdays.
At Mission, it’s all about giving traditional Mexican dishes an American twist. Take, for example, the fan-favorite drunk and crazy ribs covered in a chipotle barbecue sauce or the spicy elote loco, which features corn on the cob drenched in sauce and topped with cotija cheese and chili flakes. Whatever you do, don't leave the Dupont Circle spot without digging into the taco platter comprised of three tacos of your choosing (options include chicken, carnitas and blackened salmon) served alongside rice and beans. The restaurant's mix of traditional and modern fare is reflected in the decor. Wood elements and exposed brick walls give it a rustic feel, while colorful Mexican tiles and skull adornments provide the perfect pop of Latin flair.
The vibe of this Mexican spot is unlike any other. It's dark and sultry thanks to a blend of wooden tables, tufted booths, sparkly chandeliers and weathered walls emblazoned with murals of Day of the Dead and tattoo art imagery. But the decor isn't the most impressive thing here. The taco selection is delicious. Choose from al pastor, carnitas or barbacoa. Or opt for other Mexican classics such as mole poblano, tamales, chiles relleno or enchiladas verde. Whatever entrée you order, churros or coconut flan serve as a sweet ending.
Agua 301 gets its name from its prime waterfront location, which provides dazzling river views perfect for sweeping a date off their feet. Awash in neutral hues and warm pops of color, the restaurant's interior draws inspiration from Mexico’s picturesque landscape. The food here is authentic but with a modern touch. Case in point: The carne asada kimchi tacos topped with crumbly cotija cheese. But before you dig into the entrées, be sure to sample some offerings from the bocaditos (or little bites) menu such as the queso fundido, beef barbacoa flautas and Mexican corn pancakes.
Sip on a pomegranate margarita and watch the beautiful people—made even more gorgeous by a backdrop of glittering blue tiles and rose petals embedded in clear Lucite—eye each other's press credentials under the pink-hued lights. Then order some guacamole, which comes in strengths from mild to medium to wowee. It's whipped up tableside in a volcanic stone mortar and pestle. And remember, things really do look better through rose-colored sangria glasses.
Wowing the palates of DC locals since 1982, El Tamarindo is a Mexica-Salvadoran fusion restaurant. When a serious craving for tacos, enchiladas or huevos rancheros hits in the middle of the night, this is where you want to go. El Tamarindo is open until 2am on weekdays and 5am on the weekends.
The tacos served at Tacqueria Nacional taste as good as the ones you'd eat in Mexico. They are made to order with fresh corn tortillas and the margaritas and aguas frescas are flowing. Although the menu is affordable and the vibe is casual, this isn't your typical hole-in-the-wall establishment. The space, formerly a post office, is visually stunning. Weathered walls, mismatched chairs and a mural of the Virgin Mary are juxtaposed against a glistening chandelier and dazzling string lights.
A favorite among politicians and locals alike, Tortilla Coast is a Tex-Mex spot serving south of the border-inspired cuisine on Capitol Hill since 1988. Their signature frozen margaritas are a must. They're served by the pitcher in yummy flavors such as mango and strawberry. The menu features a variety of quesadillas, tacos and combo plates, or you can build your own burritos or enchiladas and enjoy them alongside black beans and rice.
Serving a mix of Mexican and Salvadoran fare, Tortilla Café's chicken tamales and pupusas are so good they've made cameos on the Food Network's popular Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. With all menu items priced under $10, this budget-friendly spot is hard to stay away from. Try the empanada platter or the Tex-Mex burrito filled with grilled steak, chicken, shrimp, pico de gallo and guac and wash it all down with a refreshing horchata.