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The 14 best tacos in DC

From vegetarian to meat-heavy options, the best tacos in DC elevate the status of Mexican cuisine in the capital

Photograph: Greg Powers

Are tacos DC’s most versatile food offering? Sure, they are not as filling as the best burgers in DC, not necessarily as flavorful as the best Indian food in Washington, DC and definitely not as healthy as, say, a salad? But there is something to be said about the usually crunchy taco: Served as a standalone vegetarian dish or as a meat-heavy appetizer slathered in sweet and spicy sauces, the taco can be enjoyed by all palates in a variety of ways—just ask the geniuses helming the kitchens at the best Mexican restaurants in DC. Below, find a list of the absolute best tacos in DC and get ready to eat them all.  

Best tacos in DC

1

Al pastor taco Taqueria Habanero

This darling of a taco shop—run by a husband and wife team from Pueblo, Mexico—makes its own masa tortillas. It only gets better from there: The pillowy rounds are stuffed with authentic fillings including an al pastor that will have you salivating just by looking at it. Juicy yet crispy, this porky taco drips with authenticity—and pineapple juice. Top it with one of three homemade salsas, our favorite of which is the restaurant's namesake. $2.50

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2

Lengua taco at El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria

Don’t shy away from this tongue taco, which—no pun intended—melts in your mouth. The meat is slow-braised until it’s so tender that it barely requires chewing. It’s topped with chopped cilantro and onion and served atop a freshly made tortilla. If you’re craving a bigger meal, don’t overlook the extensive list of moles, made by the mom of the brother and sister team that helms the restaurant. $2.75

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3

Al pastor taco at Tacos el Chilango

This 15-seat restaurant is as festive as it is teeny, with an are-you-sure-we’re-not-in-Mexico-City menu to boot. Drawing from family recipes (and what a recipe book it is: Owner Juan Antonio claims his parents owned the first taqueria in Mexico City), the kitchen spins gems like the al pastor taco, made from pork shoulder marinated in adobo sauce, onions and pineapple juice. It’s slow-cooked for a tender bite and accented with sweet pineapple chunks and cilantro. 3 for $7.50

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4

Black pearl taco at Taco Bamba Taqueria

Fluffy, crispy, savory and spicy, this Baha-leaning taco satisfies every craving. Chef Victor Albisu deep fries beer-battered tilapia and coats it with a spicy coleslaw of cabbage, carrot and cayenne pepper, squid ink aioli and avocado. If there’s such thing as a gourmet taco, this is it. And at that price you may as well get three. $4

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5

Mushroom taco at Chaia

Are you sure there’s no meat in here? Chaia’s savory mushroom taco is so rich (with umami) you’d never believe it was vegetarian. The pocket of deliciousness starts with organic white cap button mushrooms from Pennsylvania that quickly get sautéed in garlic until tender. The concoction is topped with chipotle yogurt, crumbled feta and cilantro, and served in a from-scratch corn tortilla. Since Chaia’s early days as a humble outpost at the local farmers’ market, the fantastic fungi taco has remained one of the most popular offerings. $3.75

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Georgetown
6

Chicken taco at Espita Mezcaleria

No detail is too small for this mezcal mecca, including the corn tortillas, which are made by hand daily using heirloom corn flown in from Oaxaca. Chef Alexis Samayoa tops the chicken tacos with a red bell pepper sofrito, which is slightly sweet and complements the always-juicy meat. Wash it down with one of Espita’s renowned cocktails, perhaps the well-balanced People of the Clouds, made with smoky mezcal, jicama and lemon served with a lavender jicama stick. 2 for $12

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Shaw
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7

Carne asada taco at Taqueria Distrito Federal

You’ll likely hear the carne asada taco before you taste it: The bustling kitchen is always on display at this tiny taqueria. Expect to see plate after plate of taco perfection coming out of the kitchen. The grilled steak taco is as soft as the fresh corn tortilla that it is served upon and comes topped with cilantro and onion, with radish lime and avocado on the side. $3

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8

Fish taco District Taco

Wait, what’s today? You’ll be asking yourself the same question every day after trying District Taco’s fish taco, available only on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Drawing long lines, the citrusy special is made with tilapia marinated in chili peppers, lime, garlic and salt. Rather than being battered and fried, the light filet is grilled and topped with strings of cabbage and chipotle mayonnaise. 3 for $8.50

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9

Chapulines taco at Oyamel Cocina Mexicana

If you close your eyes and take a bite, you’d never guess that your corn tortilla is stuffed with grasshoppers. A Mexican delicacy, the insects are sautéed to a crunch in shallots and tequila and topped with guacamole. One of the most popular offerings at this elevated Mexican restaurant, run by Jose Andrés, the chapulines are worth sinking your teeth into—if only to say you’ve done it. $5

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Downtown
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10

Carne asada taco El Rey

This bar-meets-taqueria draws huge crowds for its lively atmosphere (read: single’s scene) as well as its top-notch tacos. Our favorite? The carne asada, available on either a corn or flour tortilla and topped with chopped onion, pickled radish and cilantro. You’d be wise to ask for extra salsa, which is made with tomatillos and avocados whose piquant punch cuts through the fatty steak. $3

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11

Fish taco at Pica Taco

The first thing you may notice about this fish taco are the thick chunks of tilapia, a fish that traditionally falls about when cooked. But at this popular taqueria, the chefs steam it rather than grill it, which explains the cohesion. It all comes in a corn tortilla loaded with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, shredded cheese and avocado. $3.25

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12

Bo ssam at Takorean

Though an unlikely marriage, Korean flavors and taco basics translate to gold at this fusion taqueria, which started over five years ago as a food truck. The build-your-own fast casual spot—run by Mike Lenard—allows you to choose your base, toppings and sauces. You’d be wise to go for the Bo Ssam, made with semi-cured pork shoulder that’s been slow roasted and finished with house-made ssamjang, a spicy Korean dipping sauce. $3.50

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13

Choco taco at Room 11

This dessert taco is served sporadically, though it’s annually available on April 20 (a day made for munchies) and consistently sells out. A seven-inch waffle cone shell is stuffed with ice cream or gelato and dipped in complementary toppings. Think of it as your favorite childhood snack dialed up to gourmet standards. Past flavors have included banana cheesecake with brownie bites and pecans as well as vanilla and chocolate ice cream dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with potato chips and pretzels. $10-$14

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14

Pollo taco at El Chucho

At this Columbia Heights taqueria with a bustling rooftop, Tacate (a Mexican beer) is used to soak wood chips, over which a whole chicken is smoked. The chicken is then hand-shredded and topped with sofrito, shredded cabbage, scallions, crumbled cotija cheese and a lime squeeze. It’s best enjoyed on a Monday, when there’s happy hour specials all night long. $5

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