It’s just this simple: if you want tasty, authentic Mexican food in Washington, you need to find a way to get to Ann Cashion’s Taqueria Nacional.   

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done for most of us because this carryout tribute to LA’s taco trucks is only open from 7 AM to 3 PM Monday through Friday.  Lucky you if you live or work near Union Station and can stop by during the week!  If not, you may want to seriously consider taking a sick day so you can check this place out for yourself

When Elizabeth arrived in Washington after spending her college years in California, she quickly came to the conclusion that the DC Mexican food scene was sorely lacking.  After a few meals of tired tacos and boring burritos, she pretty much gave up on finding anything like what she had previously known and loved.

All that changed earlier this month, when she took her first trip to Taqueria Nacional.

And I knew exactly how she felt, having first experienced Cashion’s satisfying takeout take on Mexican fast food several months earlier (working on Capitol Hill has some privileges, and this is definitely one of them).

The first step in the Taqueria Nacional experience is finding the place.  Hidden behind Johnny’s Half Shell, in the space formerly occupied by La Colline’s carryout window, the storefront is easily missed.  But if you walk toward the main entrance of 400 North Capitol Street (the building that houses C-Span and Fox News), you’ll see it on your left just after Johnny’s patio bar.  The glass front gives way to a small space decorated with exposed wooden beams, antiqued cabinets and other elements that suggest a mom-and-pop establishment in a small border town.

You’ll find the regular menu, with its variety of tacos – including chicken, beef and pork, of course, but also offering fish – tostadas and other standard offerings on the left hand wall as you enter (pay special attention to the sides like yucca fries and pinto beans).  They also offer a rotating selection platos tipicos Americanos that vary from day to day but include ‘typical’ American dishes like chicken pot pie (Wednesdays), meatloaf (Thursdays) and – naturally – jambalaya (Fridays).  At breakfast you can find soft tacos made with eggs and chorizo on corn tortillas as well as a few more traditional morning offerings served with local favorite Mayorga Coffee.

Of more interest to me on our most recent visit were two of the day’s specials: a tomato soup that was rich and flavorful but still light and almost drinkable, and a brisket taco that was tender and tasty with pico de gallo.  Elizabeth enjoyed a chorizo tostada that piled the spicy sausage, refried beans, lettuce and tomatoes onto a pair of crispy tortillas.

To wash them down, we had to have aguas frescas – strawberry for me and horchata for Elizabeth.  These traditional beverages are made from fresh fruit (or chufa nuts in the case of the horchata) and are ridiculously refreshing.

We were lucky enough to get two of the eight seats they offer outside their front door – remember, this place is primarily a carry-out catering to the crowds who work nearby – and we watched a steady stream of customers come and go as we enjoyed our light lunch.  Thank goodness Cashion has chosen to package all of her food in biodegradable containers; with all the business they’re doing, this place generates quite a bit of trash. 

Though nothing on the menu is likely to fill up a hearty appetite, the bold flavors definitely satisfy and the price is right.  Put together a meal including a taco or tostada, a side dish or two and an agua fresca, and you’ve got a decent mid-day meal for less than $10.  Even if you opt to splurge on a $5 or $6 daily special, you’re not going to break the bank eating here.

Our search for great Mexican in Washington may not be over, but Taqueria Nacional is a big step in the right direction.  Here’s hoping Ann Cashion puts her knowledge of these bright, bold flavors to use in a larger sit-down environment some time soon.  If she does, we’ll be the first in line to check it out (and then we’ll run right back here to tell you all about it).

NERD ALERT (Me?  Geeking out?  No way!)
As I was checking out a few of the reviews from Taqueria Nacional’s earliest days (May of last year), I noticed something interesting.  It seems that Cashion originally opened the eatery under the name Taqueria Nacionale – until it was pointed out that the proper Spanish word is Nacional.  Since that time, it appears that the extraneous “e” has been dropped.  At first I wasn’t sure what to make of the situation – I was ready to attribute the discrepancy to typographical errors…but then I found this post on Metrocurean.  Comparing the picture of the taqueria’s exterior that accompanies her review to the one we took on our visit this month (the first image in the post), you can clearly see that the signage has been revised since it first opened.  Score one for the grammar police!

Taqueria Nacional
400 North Capitol Street, NW
Washington, DC  20001

Taqueria Nacionale on Urbanspoon