The Absolute Best Mexican Restaurants in DC
It’s margarita season.
DC has built up a wide array of Mexican restaurants in recent months, from sleek, modern eateries to savory, no-frills taco joints. And in the last year, despite the pandemic, newcomers like Taqueria Xochi, Las Gemelas, and Taqueria Al Lado have joined the ranks with several standbys representing the best the District has to offer in Mexican cuisine. And yes, several of these destinations serve up juicy quesabirria tacos that seem to be popping up on your Instagram feed nearly every single day now.
Two important notes: as you dine out, be sure to check and see if reservations are required in advance of dining. Restaurants are still operating with strict COVID-19 safety guidance and many places are restricted to capacity dining limits. And as much as delivery services have made life easier than ever to experience local restaurants at home, ordering directly from the business is still the best way to support staff and owners during these challenging times. The rest of the experience is yours to decide, so get out there and enjoy!
This former ghost kitchen run by a ThinkFoodGroup alum became a breakout star of the pandemic, and now the U Street restaurant has plans for a second location in Adams Morgan. Until then, chef Teresa Padilla and her business partner Geraldine Mendoza remain hard at work serving up cemitas and Puebla-style Mexican sandwiches along with family-style options like 20 tacos for $52 and tres leches cake and chocoflan for dessert.
From the team behind Espita, another staple Mexican restaurant on this list, Las Gemelas debuted in March as two twin businesses. Taqueria Las Gemelas offers tacos, quesadillas, tlayudas, churros, and soft-serve ice cream, as well as a selection of pantry items like tortillas and mole to take home for DIY-dinners. You’ll also find $9 margarita and canned Latin wines available to order from a walk-up window alongside some sidewalk seating. Neighbors will certainly want to plan their visit early for breakfast tacos and $2 coffee from Counter Culture, served starting at 11 a.m. during the week and 9 a.m. on weekends. The sister concept, Gemelas Cocina Mexicana, is a full-service restaurant inside uber-hip La Cosecha food hall that serves brunch and dinner menus of sophisticated fare from chefs Robert Aikens and Ben Tenner.
Taqueria Al Lado
The former home of Italian restaurant Osteria Al Volo recently reopened as a Mexican-style taqueria serving up street foods you might find in Oaxaca. The restaurant opened in early March and has an entire back half of dining space that is roofless for heated outdoor dining. Chef Rolando Frias grinds corn by hand for all of the menu’s masa, and you’ll also find almost a dozen different tacos—including pork, chicken, beef, fish, and vegan options.
A relative newcomer located inside the Mark Center shopping plaza, Taqueria Picoso opened in 2019 and has an outdoor patio for safe and socially distanced al-fresco dining. Birria tacos come in sets of two doused in a well-seasoned broth and topped with chihuahua cheese for $10.50. Meanwhile, Mexico City-style street food staples like tamales and tortas make for perfectly portable options you can eat on the run. And did we mention the restaurant offers breakfast staples all day long—huevos rancheros and molletes come served with a runny sunny-side-up egg on top.
El Chucho Cocina Superior
El Chucho is elote heaven. This Columbia Heights mainstay serves succulent corn that comes out partially charred, slathered with a brown-butter aioli, and covered in crumbles of cotija cheese and cilantro. While the restaurant was closed for more than a year due to COVID-19, the rooftop recently reopened for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch service. Takeout also remains a reliable option and the restaurant even went as far as to create a carryout window dedicated to zero-contact and safe pickup.
This Shaw spot is synonymous with Mezcal, a Mexican smoky spirit that’s perfect for sampling in a tasting flight or in one of this restaurant’s expertly crafted cocktails. The spirit pairs perfectly with fresh salsa verde or shareable appetizers like a tlayuda—essentially one big nacho topped with shredded pork belly, beef, or chorizo. Tortillas are made with heirloom corn and make ideal partners to the restaurant’s tacos and chips. The restaurant is also home to a ghost kitchen aptly named Ghostburger, serving double and triple-stacked burgers, including la hamburgesa, which comes topped with queso Oaxaca, salsa macha, smoked tomatillo relish, and cilantro.
The first thing you have to do when visiting this sibling-owned spot is order a margarita. The restaurant has a solid classic, but try the hibiscus or spicy mango variations for a tropical kick. Then, build a meal from the street food-inspired recipes of chef Alfred Solis, who broke into DC cooking with El Sol in Shaw. There are nearly 20 taco choices, but that’s only part of the extensive menu. The enchiladas slathered with molé sauce are a winner, as is the quesadilla with mushrooms and spinach.
On a sunny day, it’s hard to beat the waterfront dining options at The Wharf. And chef Roberto Santibañez has you covered, whether you’re in search of brunch, a mid-afternoon snack of chips and guac, or an upscale-casual dinner with gooey queso fundido, made from Oaxacan and Chihuahuan cheeses and served with hand-pressed corn tortillas. Enchiladas de mole negro is also a good bet for heartier fare, especially paired with an order of fried plantains or roasted corn esquites.
Oyamel Cocina Mexicana
Arguably DC’s most influential chef, José Andrés never misses a chance to innovate and adapt. At Oyamel, his head chef Omar Rodriguez oversees a menu that starts with zippy ceviche and decadent guacamole and graduates to dishes like chicken tamales and tacos built around grasshopper, steak, and other Mexican vegetables and herbs. Recently, the restaurant debuted a new brunch taco—a taco de chorizo con papas, which is a housemade pork-fat flour tortilla with scrambled egg, chorizo, potatoes, refried black beans, and tomato-serrano salsa.
What started as a small store in Falls Church has developed a groundswell of followers as it spread throughout Northern Virginia. The menu spans traditional—proteins like chicken, grilled beef, or chorizo topped with onions and cilantro—to more elaborate creations. For fans of the al pastor taco, go ahead and give La Gringa a try. Pork and pineapple are paired in a quesadilla with seared cheese, onions, cilantro, and sweet chili sauce. The latest addition to the menu are empanadas available at each of the five Northern Virginia locations, available all day, for $4 each. And the restaurant chain is soon jumping the Potomac River and expanding to Rockville, Maryland.
In between the Navy Yard and Marine Barracks sits this humble eatery pumping out fresh Mexcian cuisine at affordable prices, including $3 tacos, enchiladas ($15), and camarones al chipotle ($15). The Capitol Hill location makes it an ideal lunch spot, but the expansive patio is also perfect for happy hour, when cocktails come served by the pitcher and include strawberry basil margaritas and blood orange and tequila drinks for $40-60 a piece.
Tacos are obviously the must-try items at this Pueblan-style eatery, which describes itself as "99% Mexican," and has two locations in College Park and Petworth. The first must-have is tinga poblana, made with shredded chicken and sausage. Vegetable fans can choose mushrooms or cactus "nopales," and grasshopper and beef tongue are among the more adventurous options. Each mouthwatering ingredient, including the corn tortillas, is made in-house, from scratch.
TTT Mexican Diner
An abbreviation of tacos, tortas, and tequilas, this eatery serves up an "arabe" taci with your choice of protein (shrimp, mushrooms, and grilled chicken), salsa roja, and avocado crema on pita bread at two locations just outside DC in Silver Spring and Ballston. Anyone with a sandwich craving can tuck into a satisfying spicy torta Milanesa, stuffed with chicken, tomato, refried beans, avocado, and lettuce. Just don’t forget the drinks. A strawberry margarita, maybe?