The Absolute Best Mexican Restaurants in DC
These top-notch taquerias and restaurants are serving up spicy margaritas, trays full of tacos, homemade tortillas, and more.
DC may not be known as a tried-and-true destination for Mexican fare, but the city has built up a wide array of Mexican restaurants in recent months, with new openings that range from sleek, modern eateries to no-frills taco joints.
Newcomers like dLeña and Tacos a la Madre are joining the ranks of destination dining rooms by José Andrés and neighborhood spots that have remained favorites for generations. So whether you’re in search of spicy margaritas for happy hour, late-night tacos and elote, or a top-notch restaurant, this list of the best Mexican restaurants in DC has you covered.
Buena Vida Clarendon
Buena Vida recently reopened with a new menu and a new chef: Jaime Garciá Pelayo Bribiesca, who has worked under top chefs like Jean Georges, José Andrés, and Edward Lee. His menu reflects his heritage with a Mexican tasting menu experience that offers unlimited small plates in a gastro-pub setting. It’s also reasonably priced, with set menus priced at $25 for lunch or $40 to $45 for brunch and dinner.
Cielo Rojo is a family-owned restaurant in the heart of Takoma Park, Maryland, known as an immigrant community for many Mexican-Americans. This restaurant is loyal to neighbors who come here for the Cochinita Pibil Taco Platter—a massive taco plate with slow-cooked pork marinated in achiote and lime juice and served with guacamole, habanero salsa, pickled onions, and housemade tortillas. Enchiladas, pozole, and vegetarian quesadillas are also some of the top favorites the regulars tend to steer toward.
From chilaquiles to tlayudas and even something sweet, like a mezcal-blood orange sorbet, the destination has to be Destino. This restaurant inside the La Cosecha food hall has become the buzziest spot in Union Market for fresh and flavorful Mexican cuisine. Chef Robert Aikens has revamped the Destino menu for spring with some exciting new updates including a delicious new snack made with fresh Queso Oaxaca and topped with cacao and olive oil. Other highlights include Destino’s first ever veggie burrito. Be sure to sample the wide selection of Latin American wines, plus a tropical drink, like the Como La Flor, a boozy lychee colada.
This wood-fired modern Mexican restaurant from chef Richard Sandoval has been drawing in Washingtonians for a fresh take on Mexican cuisine since it opened last year. The menu offers classic Mexican dishes including an assortment of Birria Barbacoa, Camarón, and Hongos a la Leña Tacos, and the grilled house chicken dish, known as Medio Pollo al Carbón, comes marinated with guajillo-achiote, criolla sauce, and grilled broccolini. The restaurant also offers a new chef’s table experience. With two seatings per night, the chef’s table allows diners to linger and enjoy an eight-course menu for $125 per person, with an option for a $75 beverage pairing. It’s a primo seat located behind the main bar and facing directly into Sandoval’s open kitchen.
Tacos A La Madre
What started as a pop-up taco shop during the pandemic has quickly converted into a brick-and-mortar location in College Park. The spot is popular with University of Maryland students, of course, but it’s a must-visit for anyone craving tacos by the tray load. The menu focused on tacos and spans shrimp, pork sausage, spicy chicken, lengua (beef tongue), and more. Beyond the basics, the restaurant has some fun with Mexican-style cuisine with a dish called Papas a la Madre consisting of French fries topped with carne asada, pico de gallo, and chipotle pepper sauce—it’s a limited quantity dish that usually sells out daily.
Aged in both American and French oak barrels and finished in port wine casks, 1800 Cristalino Tequila is an ultra-premium, crystal-clear añejo meant to celebrate life’s special moments with taste. So, this Cinco de Mayo, elevate your experience and raise a glass with 1800 Cristalino instead—your taste buds will thank you.
Santa Rosa Taqueria
Taqueria Santa Rosa recently reopened as a Mexican restaurant with bright colors and bold flavors, plus a wide variety of margaritas—making this the perfect happy hour spot for politicos nearby. The menu is curated by chef Brian Lacayo and Catherine Mendelsohn and includes tacos like a Birria Taco with cheesy pot roast and consommé and a veggie-friendly Roasted Harissa Cauliflower Taco that reflects Santa Rosa’s commitment to serving fresh, locally sourced ingredients. At the bar, order up a drink from Gina Chersevani (also with Buffalo & Bergen, Suburbia DC, and Last Call). She has created a margarita list with refreshing flavors including a Guava Mango Margarita served on the rocks, and a drink called the Frozen Pleasures, an icy lime margarita topped with fresh mango, pineapple, and more lime.
El Chucho Cocina Superior
El Chucho’s menu covers tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and everything in between, but most importantly, it’s 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. The rooftop only makes the situation better, serving as the perfect perch for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch service.
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.
From the team behind Espita, this laid back spot offers tacos, tortas, churros, and soft-serve ice cream all available to order at the counter and enjoy in the Union Market area around La Cosecha. The taqueria also offers a selection of pantry items like fresh tortillas and packaged mole to upgrade your at-home dinners. Neighbors will want to rise early, especially on weekends, for breakfast tacos paired with a cup of Counter Culture coffee.
The first thing you have to do when visiting this sibling-owned spot: 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
Perhaps 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. At breakfast, order the Brunch Taco. It’s 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, Maryland, and soon, a location coming to Cathedral Heights in Washington, DC. The menu spans traditional taco fillngs—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. In addition to the slate of tacos, empanadas are available all day for $4 each.
In between the Navy Yard and the Marine Barracks sits this humble eatery pumping out fresh Mexican cuisine at affordable prices, including a noteworthy deal for $3 tacos. 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.
Taqueria Al Lado
This Mexican-style taqueria is squarely focused on serving up street foods you might find in Oaxaca. 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. The space adds to the feel as the entire back half of the dining room has a retractable roof for dining al fresco.
Tacos are 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.
Inside the Mark Center shopping plaza, Taqueria Picoso serves Birria Tacos that come in sets of two doused in a well-seasoned broth and topped with chihuahua cheese. You can also find 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.
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, Puebla-style Mexican sandwiches, along with family-style options like tacos by the tray-load and Tres Leches Cake or Choco-Flan for dessert.