Pity the poor office workers who slave away in the buildings surrounding Union Station. Come lunchtime, they are faced with a depressing choice of food options. Do they brave the hellish atmosphere of the Union Station food court, a seething pit of rowdy out of town school groups and tourists who think nothing of forking over $8 for charred burgers and greasy pizza? Or perhaps one of the nearby delis, ruled by the soup nazi’s soulmates, angry ladies who delight in charging you 55 cents for a measly slice of avocado for your BLT?
All these wonderful choices, and yet some days I still aimlessly wander the area, unable to decide what vendor I would like to hand over my hard-earned $8 to in exchange for poor to mediocre “food.” Many a time I just give up and head to McCrackhead central for a McFlurry. Ice cream for lunch. Yeah, I’m still a kid at heart.
Well, my dear Union Station worker comrades, I am here to spread the news of an amazing recent arrival to the lunchtime landscape. TAQUERIA NACIONALE. Yes, a taco shop near Union Station.
On Tuesday, Elisabeth and I ventured over to this shining taqueria on the Hill to determine if it would meet our lofty expectations. She’s a Texan, and I, of course, am from the Great State of California, so our standards in regards to Mexican food are much higher than someone from the East Coast. Yes, we are Mexican food snobs and proud of it.
Taqueria Nacionale is located at 400 North Capitol Street, right next to Johnny’s Half Shell. As this building also houses Fox News, you might have the unfortunate luck of running into Ann Coulter, but that’s the price you pay for delicious tacos. The taqueria itself is rather small (no seating) and the line is out the door for the lunch hour rush. The simple menu is tacked to the wall, large jars of agua fresca line the counter, and the refrigerators are filled with bottled Coke straight from Mexico (made with real sugar).
So far I have tried the beef taco, carnitas taco, fish taco, refried beans, rice, fried yucca, pineapple agua fresca, and chips and guacamole. I did not eat all of this in one day, but rather have eaten there three days in a row. This should give you an indication of how deeply I have fallen in love with this simple taqueria.
My personal preference is the beef taco, with its double tortillas, tender pieces of quality beef, and a smattering of onions. With a bit of guacamole and salsa, it’s really the perfect taco.
(I should note, however, that my boss, who is from neither California nor Texas, wanted to know why all the lettuce and tomatoes and “stuff” was missing from his taco. People, please – this isn’t Taco Bell. These are simple, authentic tacos that mimic those found on the streets of LA. This is truly the working man’s taco – the taco of the proletariat, if you will. We don’t need any of that fancy sour cream and lettuce.)
The carnitas taco was delicious, and has become Elisabeth’s taco of choice. The fish taco was decent, but could have used a bit more sauce. The guacamole was chunky, as guacamole should be, and the portion was VERY generous – enough for the included chips and your taco. I prefer mine with a bit more spice, but it is nevertheless delicious.
The side dishes do not disappoint either. The fried yucca has become my personal favorite, especially when paired with the salsa verde. You have to eat it relatively quickly, though, as it tends to get pretty cold and gummify.
As for drinks, the pineapple ague fresca is refreshing (especially during the humid DC summers) and a welcome break from the standard soda and bottled water. And yes, they do have horchata, which I will most likely be trying tomorrow. I intend to eat there as much as possible. As in, every day. I have a feeling this will be the D.C. equivalent of El Vergel, that wonderful London establishment that provided sustenance to a Californian living in a city where the burritos were stuffed with sweetcorn and onion rings were considered to be the “Best of Mexico”.
Taqueria Nacionale Round-up:
Location: 400 N Capitol St. NW, Washington, DC (Hall of States building)
Service: Employees are friendly and fast. Although the line might be out the door, the wait is short. There are cute animal stamps on the cartons to denote your taco style (pig for carnitas, cow for beef, etc.)
Pricing: Compared to the other food around joints around Union Station, it’s cheap. $2-2.50 for a taco, with sides running $1.50. Agua Fresca is $2. The chips and guac will set you back $4, but as I said above, it’s a good portion of guac.
Bottom line: Californian and Texan approved (read Elisabeth’s review on the Washington Post site)…and that’s all you really need.