The first step to healing, is admitting you have a problem, right? Well, people, here is my admission: I am addicted to Taqueria Nacional. Its draw to me is more powerful than Potbelly’s was when I used to work near 17th & L (best Potbelly’s location ever) and those of you who know me know that I adore Potbelly’s. I will forgo any lunch I’ve brought to work faster than you can say “Hey Katie, wanna go to Taqui…” I’ll dash out of conference calls, I’ll leave my boss in a lurch, I’ll do pretty much anything for a pork taco from Taqueria Nacional in the middle of the day. So this We Love Food? This one is personal, cause I’m a regular. A regular with an addiction.
Taqueria Nacional opened in 2007 amidst a flurry of rumors (it’s in an alley, it’s only a takeout window, it only has tacos) in the foodie scene. Clearly we did not have Twitter to quickly spread the truth, and it took a while for everyone to get on the same page – but here it is: Taqueria Nacional is tucked away behind Johnny’s the Half Shell, in the corner of the courtyard of the CSPAN building. It hides as a little standing-room-only takeout shop with a line that usually reaches halfway across the courtyard. Ann Cashion and John Fulchino are behind this little taco place, which bodes well for the new Mexican fare at H Street Country Club (Cashion’s new venture), and the standards are high. The tacos are five bites of heaven, the salads are fresh with high quality lettuce, the agua frescas are creative, and my stomach cheers at the thought of the fried yucca.
When you walk in, you are greeted with brightly colored tiles, and a menu written on plastic in paint marker backed by raw wood. You’ve only got a little while before one of the women working the cash register impatiently calls “next” to you, so you should quickly decide what you want.After you order, grab some of the specialty salsa in pump-tubs to top your tacos, and then wait for your number to be called.
But what to order? You’ll want a taco. I’m a big fan of the pork, especially when paired with the red medium-hot salsa in the pump jar off to the side. I also like the beef, fish, and chorizo. The chicken is a bit dry, but if you’re only up for chicken, try it with the green medium-hot salsa. The tacos come with chopped onion and cilantro, with two small corn tortillas as your vehicle. You’ll need more than one taco.
I’d pair them with the fried yucca, and the homemade Huancaina sauce. Tender, and freshly fried, I crave these crispy, warm, thick roots all the time. I’ll sit at my office desk and fooddream about them, thus probably the yucca is a main player in my addiction problem. Wash it all down with the agua frescas, the housemade juices that sit in huge jars on the counter. The flavors rotate frequently, with flavors like watermellon and pineapple making regular appearances. My only complaint about Taqueria is that the tortillas can be slightly hit or miss, every so often they are dry, but add some of the specialty salsa and you’ll be just fine.
Whenever I’m having the food guilt over eating too much junk, I’ll spring for the salad, and I’m never disappointed. The salad is always fresh, none of that iceburg lettuce and some wrinkly watery tomatoes mess, I’m happy that they don’t step down in quality from the other food items, just because it’s a salad. It comes paired with a homemade dressing, also, so look forward to that.
Taqueria hosts daily specials that aren’t mexican food – I have friends who love the chicken pot pie, jambalaya or cheeseburger offerings that change with frequency. I’d recommend checking those out if you’re not a mexican food person, or if you’re just sick of it.
Oh, and before I forget it, they’re also open for breakfast. I’ve never tried it for breakfast, but I hear the egg and chorizo burritto is fantastic. If you’re a Taqueria Nacional breakfast fan, do share in the comments, I’d love to hear your opinion.
There are only three tables outside Taqueria Nacional, and so unless you’re just plain lucky, you’ll be taking your lunch elsewhere. The planters and side walls along the CSPAN building are littered with telltale white takeout bags, and clear agua fresca cups, as people perch outside to take in the tacos. I generally take mine to the Union Station Plaza on the Senate side of the Capitol where you can stretch out in the grass, or sit on one of the benches alongside the fountains.
Taqueria Nacional is the perfect spring, summer and fall lunchtime spot, especially when you want to stop staring at your computer or need a break from work. And you can probably keep an eye out for the taco-crazed blonde running at it full speed at lunchtime screaming “I WANT MY YUCCA”, just ignore her – that’ll just be me, feeding my addiction.
Taqueria Nacional is located at 400 N. Capitol St. NW in the courtyard of the CSPAN building. Closest Metro stop: Union Station (Red line). For more information, call (202) 737-0400. Only open for breakfast and lunch.