Tacos El Chilango: Mexican Food Game Changer

by Borderstan.com August 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm 4,367 3 Comments

"Tacos El Chilango"

Tacos El Chilango, 1119 V Street NW. (Alejandra Owens)

From Alejandra Owens. You can find her at her food blog, One Bite At A Time. Alejandra also writes for City Eats DC, a Food Network site, where you can book dinner reservations. Email her at alejandra[AT]borderstan.com and follow her on Twitter at @frijolita.

Last week, Washington City Paper Food Editor Jessica Sidman, posted an interesting question on the Young & Hungry blog in reference to DC’s lackluster Mexican food scene, “But as for whether people will stop hating on D.C. tacos in general? That has yet to be seen.” She did a great write up on Tacos El Chilango, another food truck gone brick-and-mortar business — or is it?

I’ve complained multiple times about the lack of good Mexican food in this town, and clearly I’m not alone. In 2011 9.1% of DC’s population was Hispanic or Latino so it really has baffled me that the city hasn’t experienced a rise in authentic, hole-in-the-wall Latin food joints. I mean, entire neighborhoods are known for being Latino, even one of the city’s Safeways is nick-named “Sandanista Safeway“! It seems though that in Tacos El Chilango, in finding it’s brick and mortar mojo just north of U Street at 12th and V NW, is a game changer, for not just the taco scene in DC, but for Mexican food as a whole in the city.

Juan Santacruz, owner and operator of Tacos El Chilango, and I chatted about his history with tacos after I ordered. Three generations of his family had run or are currently running taquerias in the US and Mexico. With no car and nothing really driving my need to be in Virginia, I’d heard the lore around the Tacos El Chilango truck but had never actually been. Presented with a plate of three simply dressed tacos — chicken & chorizo, cheese & avocado and carne asada — and a cup of horchata (easily my favorite beverage on the face of the Earth…second only to bourbon), I said a silent little prayer and hoped for the best.

Immediately after biting into my carne asada taco I thought to myself, “This sh&t is legit!”

I could taste the hints of the asada marinade, the beef was tender and it was even chopped in a familiar fashion! I’m not kidding, when you grow up eating carne asada chopped in little evenly measured dices, it becomes a part of your culinary lexicon. It was like biting into a little piece of home. I appreciate the small, straight forward menu — six options with meat, three vegetarian and the house made aguas frescas. And the salsa “bar” was a pleasant surprise, with three options, again — roja, verde and habanero.

DC has a sizable, and growing, Latino population, no doubt about it. I’m just hoping that more entrepreneurial spirits will follow Juan’s lead, and that the city will encourage these folks to go from secret taqueria or farmers market to food cart/truck or even good ‘ol brick and mortar.

Tacos El Chilango

  • Where Am I Going: 1119 V Street NW, corner of 12th and V.
  • When Am I Going: Monday through Friday, 5 to 10 pm; Saturdays, noon to 10 pm; closed on Sundays.
  • Paycheck Pain: Tacos come cheap! $2.50 a pop, but there is a $10 minimum for credit card charges. Three tacos and an agua fresca will get you there easily.
  • Say What?: It’s a small restaurant, if you’re jonesing for peace and quiet, make it a point to go during off-peak hours and days.
  • What You’ll Be Eating: Tacos! Cilantro haters, I don’t think this will be your spot… tacos come with a healthy dose of the frilly green stuff and onions.
  • Yelp: A total rarity, the Tacos El Chilango in Arlington has a 5-star rating and more than 170 reviews.

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