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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Counter service

Mon–Fri 7:00am–3:00pm

Features Outdoor dining
Bar None
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx


Penn Quarter
400 N. Capitol St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 737-7070
Taquería Nacional
Authentic, delicious tacos and more from the least likely of places: one without wheels

“Tacos for the Boho Masses!” may well be the rallying cry of Taquería Nacional, which serves up some of the closest facsimiles of true Distrito Federal cuisine in one of the poshest locations of our own little federal district. This paradox—local food brought to you by The Establishment—is further vexed by the proletariat-friendly prices at Nacional, as well as the exquisite side dishes, baked goods, horchata, and aguas frescas.

This just may be one of the oddest places to eat in Washington: Taquería Nacional shares a kitchen with Johnny’s Half Shell—an expensive meeting place for the suits of Capitol Hill and their K Street patrons, complete with white cloth and grand piano tunes at noon—but the similarities between the oyster shop and taquería end with this shared space. Like Johnny’s, Nacional is clean and kempt, and those who believe that good tacos can only come from rusty trucks or dirty hovels may be tempted to turn back at the door.

But don’t go! The tacos here are very similar to what you’ll find in Mexico—two small corn tortillas full of spiced beef, pork, sometimes tongue, topped with the traditional cilantro-onion-lime mix—served out of a location that’s pure Capitol Hill. The spot is take-out only, and each taco is presented individually in a recycled cardboard hamburger box (another nod to the upscale surroundings). Be sure to grab a container of fresh salsa, available in green, red, or chipotle iterations; spicy or mild, it’s some of the freshest stuff around.

You’re likely to be eating your meal on a park bench or in your living room, but these tacos will transport you to a south-of-the-border taquería: lardy, wet beans, tender beef, or lightly battered snapper topped with shredded cabbage and a tangy white crema. Well-travelled taco lovers may notice that, here, the meat is a touch less greasy than the real deal, but it doesn’t take away from the experience in the slightest.

A board out front changes daily, offering American specials with a flair: pimento cheeseburgers sometimes, a spicy jambalaya others. These are every bit as delicious, and a nice break from a daily taco habit. Wash it all down with the world’s most refreshing beverage, agua fresca, or a Spanish-style horchata (nutty, cinnamony), and you’ll find Nacional to be one of the district’s finest affairs.

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