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Mar 13, 2011 06:02 PM

Quick Taco report - TECC & La Placita

I've been in DC for a week and one of my goals was to find good tacos/Mexican (being from CA). I had done a lot of research before moving out here, and at the top of the list was TECC (Taqueria El Charrito Caminante), Taqueria Distrito Federal and Taqueria La Placita. We decided to make it a mission this weekend to get out to TECC, and after some hassle with the Metro, we made it out Saturday evening. I ordered one taco of each meat (except for Chicken - I have a general rule about not ordering chicken from a taqueria or taco truck. The goat taco was the best, but the rest were average to subpar. The chorizo reminded me of a Taco Bell taco and was very salty. The beef was solid, and the lengua was just ok. The pork was subpar. I also thought that they needed to chop up their cilantro much better, and I prefer my radishes on the side. The salsa was ok, it had a little spice, but the flavor wasn't that good. So, all in all, we were a bit disappointed, because this had come up as one of the better taco places in DC.

We decided to hit up La Placita today after my gf's co-worker had suggested it as the best tacos in DC. Arriving, we knew we were going to be in for a better experience. The town seemed inundated with Mexican people and culture, and being the only white people in the packed taqueria was also very encouraging. I ordered a suadero, asada, al pastor, costilla and carnitas taco and my gf ordered 2 asada and 2 pollo tacos. Each one of the tacos was better than the best taco from TECC. The salsas (roja and verde) were both great (enough that we asked the guy if we could buy some, and he brought us out a few containers free). Standouts were the asada and suadero. Also happy with the spice of the salsas. They also had Sidral - my favorite drink with tacos. This place would fit in in LA. Lastly, these tacos were bigger; I couldn't finish my 5, whereas normally, I can put down 7 - 9 tacos (in LA).

We are definitely going back, and probably regularly. Still not giving up on the rest of DC Mexican, but the bar has definitely been raised.

PS - I liked Oyamel's tacos, but at their size and price, it was completely overpriced.

El Charrito Caminante
2710 Washington Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

Taqueria La Placita
5020 Edmonston Rd, Hyattsville, MD 20781

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  1. I agree that the goat at TECC is the best one there, and I think it's an exceptional taco by our standards here. I no longer order the pork, and I have never taken to the beef or chicken. But I do adore the goat. Once in a while I go for the chorizo, but it is inconsistent and sometimes salty as you pointed out. I would never compare it to Taco Bell; that's a bit ridiculous.

    I've had the al pastor at La Placita and it is very good. Although not up to California standards, it can still make an impression. I've also had the cecina, but not nearly as good as the al pastor.

    I find the Oyamel tacos a bit dry and unexciting. TDF doesn't rate at all.

    1. I spent a number of years searching DC for california style tacos - it is a challenging endeavor! So far the best tacos in the area that I've found are at La Mexicana Bakery and Tacqueria -- which is down route 1 in Alexandria, VA. The guys is from Orange County and last time I was there we spent some time chatting about El Toro in Santa Ana (IMO, best tacos in S. Cal). You do need a car to get there, and the atmosphere is pretty random (a few card tables in a bakery setting), but we found the meats to be great and the tortillas to be fresh and handmade.

      7 Replies
      1. re: hppyheather

        HH, have you tried the tacos at TECC? I went to La Mexicana in Alexandria on Arlington Dr. yesterday and had asked for cabrito, lengua and chorizo. I am not sure what I got because the cashier was new and didn't know the menu. I think I got lengua, chorizo and carne asada and they were all pretty good. The lengua was chewy but very tasty, but all the tacos were a bit too greasy (a little grease is a good thing, but these took it a bit further) and the radish was a bit dried out. The carne asada was very well done, though the tortilla itself and the filling were only ok. The chorizo was a bit gooey'er than I am used to but it was nicely spicy. All in all, a pretty good trio of tacos. The salsa verde was tasty with just the right amount of complexity, but it is very similar to the salsa verde at other places. Do all these places buy their salsa somewhere, or do they make it themselves?
        La Mexicana is not as good as TECC but pretty good. I like the way TECC layers the flavors by slicing the radish into small bits and you get just a hint of it in every bite. Mexicana's radish is in bigger chunks and a bit dried out. You can see how La Mexicana tacos look in the pic.

        1. re: Ziv

          The tacos that I think La Mexicana does best are asada, carnitas and pollo. I also liked their lengua and barbacoa, but not as much as the others. I've consistently found these to be the best in the area (I'm new here from Los Angeles). I thought TECC was borderline average at best, and the only taco I thought was solid there was the goat. TECC's chorizo was WAY too salty - and I still haven't found any Taqueria that does proper chorizo (they all are ground up and tend to be over seasoned). For some weird reason, LM put refried beans in their chorizo taco... Anyways, I think La Mexicana's tortillas are the best I've had in the area as well (La Fondita gets honorable mention).

          I am pretty sure most taquerias make their own salsas (I am pretty sure LM does atleast - I can taste variations the different times I've gone).

          PS - I think most people use radishes as a post taco palate cleanser and to cut through some of the greasiness (squeeze some lime on them). I was actually put off by TECC's putting them in the taco.

          (disclaimer: I've only been to LM on the weekends, and each time a very nice gentleman has been working and a woman on the grill, and the food has been very good each time)

          La Mexicana Bakery and Tacqueria
          2907 Arlington Dr, Alexandria, VA 22306

          1. re: mdpilam

            Just a note that TECC is a true family place and I bet if you let Jose know that you didn't want the radishes directly on the taco, they'd do that. The dually is driven by his Dad, and his Mom is usually the main one (short) over by the grill.

          2. re: Ziv

            I have tried TECC -- and I believe that they are a Salvadoran taco shop. Salvadoran tacos are tasty, but they just aren't what I prefer. The seasonings are slightly different, the tortillas are slightly different, and the Salvadorans put a radish salad on their tacos.

            I think that some people prefer TECC, which I totally respect, but for me when I'm craving west-coast style mexican tacos, TECC just isn't my preference.

            1. re: hppyheather

              Hi Heather, Jose is from central/southern Mexico, he goes back every year for a week, or so I have been told. I wonder if the cuisine in Mexico differs substantially from north to south? Maybe that radish thing is southern Mexican as well as Salvadoran? I don't know, I have never felt comfortable asking Jose where his family is from. Tyler Cowen thinks it is one the best mexican taquerias around, but I wouldn't know the difference between a Mexican one and a Salvadoran one.
              mdpilam, the gentleman was there at La Mexicana when I ordered but he was taking an order for the bakery, or so it sounded.

              La Mexicana
              13016 Middlebrook Rd, Germantown, MD 20874

              1. re: Ziv

                I believe that my biggest CH claim to fame is to first identify TECC, when he was a cart in front of Ft. Myers. Yes, he told me back then that he is from Mexico, and yes, he at least used to go back one week a year (and in the cart days the only thing otherwise that would keep him away was snow).

                FWIW, I did ask directly one year as he was getting ready to leave. I used to stop by 3-4 times/week and he gave me a heads up and so I asked. That's the story and I'm sticking to it.

          3. re: hppyheather

            visited DC with my two sons this past weekend. rode our bikes all over town. dinner at Mexicana. Beef Burrito was so big and so fresh. Son had the beef quesadillas. chopped steak etc. so good. older boy complained that he likes Chipolte better "because you watch them make the burrito in front of you". c'mon already. my ex-wife's gotta stop letting these kids eat fast food.

          4. You should try Taqueria Tres Reyes II in Bladensburg/Riverdale and Tacos El Costalila down Route 1 a ways. El Costalila is pretty great and they have tacos that this Angeleno in exile had never heard of (like Tacos Al Vapor). I particularly liked the Carnaza (even though I don't know what it was). There isn't the Taco or Mexican scene like in LA. The greatest concentration is in Bladensburg where you can even get Nopales.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ChewFun

              Just for information: Carnaza I believe is pork from the rib-section of the animal.

            2. Second both La Mexicana and Tacos El Costalila. The sopes at the latter are worth renting a Flexcar.

              19 Replies
                1. re: monkeyrotica

                  OK, just got back from a taco trip to La Mexicana Bakery and El Costalilla. La Mexicana takes the crown for best tacos we've had in the area. Excellent tortillas, and very good quality meats that were cooked and seasoned very well. We had asada, pollo, carnitas and birria. Asada had a nice beefy flavor with a slight char on the outside and tender on the inside. The pollo - which I never order at a taqueria - was very tasty. The carnitas might have been the best, with tender porky goodness, with a slight crisp to the exterior. Birria was delicious as well, but I think it was a bit over seasoned (couldn't quite put my finger on the spice) - I prefer my birria with less seasoning. I also ordered a sope de carne, which was just ok. My only complaint would be the salsa wasn't very spicy (the verde was spicier, but not that spicy, and the roja was just mediocre with no spice). Oh, and they had this maracuya drink which was fantastic.

                  El Costalilla was another gem just down the road. We ordered 2 tacos de asada and 2 tacos al pastor, and a sope de carnaza. The al pastor was solid (better than La Placita), but nothing standout (I have very high standards for al pastor - coming from LA, there are a couple of trucks that have amazing al pastor to which all al pastor is measured). The asada was pretty good, something I would expect from a solid taqueria or taco truck in LA. The sope was the standout here. They also have much more options on their menu, so we look forward to coming back and exploring it. The torta ahogada looked good... And they had Sidral, which is a big plus for me. Salsas weren't spicy here either, but they had dried chilis that you could crush up on your tacos, which was nice. Why don't any of these taquerias have escabeche (pickled jalapenos, onions and carrots)? or grilled jalapenos? We ran out of time, but wanted to check out the market, El Compadre on the corner.

                  So far in my taco quest out in DC, I would put La Mexicana in first, El Costalilla in second and La Placita in third. Ideally though, I'd have the tacos from La Mexicana, the rest of the menu at El Costalilla and the salsa jars from La Placita. That would be truly great. And that maracuya drink.

                  1. re: mdpilam

                    The Escabeche was at the Salsa bar at El Costalilla...or is is every time I am there, maybe they ran out. Try their Ceviche as well, and I like the Tostadas - Skip the tacos dorados, even though the spice condiment that comes with them is delicious...

                    Skip the market and hit up El Eden a couple of miles North, or Bestway a couple of miles South and on telegraph if you want a better meat/seafood counter...

                    1. re: tommyskitchen

                      They had am escabeche, but it lacked jalapenos, which is the whole point IMO; all I could detect were celery and carrots.

                      Thanks for the additional recs (esp. about El Eden - we noticed it while driving).

                      1. re: mdpilam

                        Interesting, usually it is mostly jalapenos and carrots and maybe a wayward onion - Hardly ever celery. Of course, I'm the one that usually picks the garlic out so if you couldn't find any of that, you were probably there right after I was!

                    2. re: mdpilam

                      From what I've heard, R & R in Maryland (Jessup?) should be your next stop. I think it's located in a gas station.

                      1. re: Steve

                        There are at least three tacos to sample in that area around R&R, and possibly a fourth.

                        R&R is indeed in the gas station at 175 & Rt 1. The parking lot is sketchy (you're forewarned). They also serve breakfast, of which the huevos con chorizo at least is very good.

                        North on Rt 1 about 1/3 of a mile on the right is a taco and torta truck.

                        Off 175, on the other side of 95 at 6476 Dobbin Center Way is Lily's Mexican Market. They probably have the largest menu, with R&R being second. They make their own tortillas here and you can see them do this while you order.

                        Then, last week I noticed a new cart/truck outside of Mel's Liquors on 175 just West of the BW pkwy. I couldn't quite tell from the road what they were serving and I didn't have time to check it out (I had also just eaten).

                        Lily's Mexican Market
                        6490 Dobbin Rd Ste N, Columbia, MD 21045

                        1. re: Dennis S

                          Do you have a name and hours of the taco truck (esp. weekends)? Coming from LA, most taco trucks operate at night, but out here, it seems to be the opposite...

                          1. re: mdpilam

                            Sorry, I don't know the hours, and generally you're right - the trucks seem mainly geared to day laborers during the work day.

                            The name has Torta in it - they seem to focus on the tortas, though I've only had the tacos thus far. There is another thread that I'm on where someone else tried the torta. Btw - though I'm not overly versed, the tortas at Pepitos (both in Gaithersburg and Adams Morgan) ROCK. These days, I try to limit my carb intake, so the torta is largely out of the picture.

                            1. re: mdpilam

                              I just came back from Laurel.

                              My first stop was R & R, the taqueria inside a gas station. It's a serious place and the tacos are a big step up from what you normally see around here, but I'm stiil not sure I'd go out of my way for them. I had buche (they translated it as pork belly?) and al pastor. Both are very nice if a bit dry. I also had their lamb soup which is really terrific. They were out of the torta de pierna and suadero (they translate it as beef stew), my first two choices. Only three stools available.

                              I next went to Lilly's Mexican Market. I had tacos of chicharones in a red gravy, and a beef stew. Handmade tortillas were nice, but these overstuffed tacos were a a bit bland, and the chicharones tasted old.

                              From the intersection of 175 and Rte 1 going south to Laurel, there were three taco trucks, spaced well apart. They are there until about 6pm on Sundays, maybe later on Saturdays. I ate only at the first one, El Poblanito, where I got a pork taco. The pork was red, coated in spices. It was nice, nothing exceptional, but this truck had very fine hand-made tortillas. The other two trucks looked good.

                              Closer in to town there is also a truck in Rosslyn at about 14th and Queen right off Rte 50. I see it there in late afternoons. Nice stuff, about the same quality as the others.

                              Overall, I prefer the taco truck at the corner of George Mason and Colombia Pike in the Food Star parking lot. The whole menu is pretty good, but he only makes tacos of beef and tongue. The beef is quite good. When the weather is warm, it's great to get the beef tacos and visit the shave ice cart parked nearby.

                              1. re: Steve

                                Steve - leave it to you to find yet 3 more taco trucks in that area.

                                Btw - the barbacoa soup at R&R is also very good.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  FYI, buche is usually stomach (i.e. the organ) rather than belly (i.e. the muscle).

                                  1. re: Steve

                                    Further north on US1 about half a mile before 100 is El Nayal. I like their tacos a little better than R&R. Juicier and more flavorful, especially the barbacoa. Four varieties of fresh salsa. Jarritos tamarindo and Negro Modelo specials, hot chips on the table. It's next to a Subway that faces southbound US1.

                                    1. re: flavrmeistr

                                      Thanks - I wish I checked this post before driving by there today.

                                    2. re: Steve

                                      A return trip to R & R in Laurel: these were exceptional tacos. The homemade tortillas were very nice. And this time the al pastor had a beautiful, complex flavor. Also excellent was the lengua. The big surprise was the tripa, which was fatty, steaming hot, and glorious. On their handout menu, tripa is translated as tripe, but these are not tripe, Tripa tacos are normally intestine, and that's what these were. If you think you can get past the funkiness, this was one helluva taco. The conchinita pibil was the only disappointment, tasted mostly of hot peppers, and not really indicative of the genre.

                                      Looking over their menu, I am very interested in trying their alambres (sizzling meats mixed with onion, bacon, ham and melted Mexican cheese), huarache pasilla, and the pambazo (bread dipped in red pepper sauce with chorizo and cheese).

                                      They also have a sit-down restaurant in Perry Hall, NE of Baltimore, about 7 minutes off the White Marsh exit of I-95.

                              2. re: mdpilam

                                Thanks for this. As a SoCal transplant who frequented taco trucks on a regular basis, I wholeheartedly agree that La Mexicana is the best authentic version in the area. Fortunately for me, it's right around the corner. The only downside to Mexicana is that the tortillas can get a bit greasy on occasion. A quick pat or two would do wonders. I also don't get all the fuss over TECC. Though good, it's not great. For awhile, my favorite was Pepito's up in the Adams Morgan area of DC.

                                For an amazing non-authentic (aka Gringo) version, try Taqueria Nacional near Capital Hill. Not sure if they're still around -- it's been awhile. For me, it's even better than Mexicana, but I feel like I'm giving in to my purist tendencies by admitting that. Nonetheless, virtually everything there is superlative. I just wish I could make a trip more often.

                                Thanks for mentioning El Costalilla. This is my first time hearing about it and since it's nearby, I'll definitely have to give it a try soon.

                                At one point, I was thinking of doing a taco blog focusing on Route 1. Seems like there's a wealth of unexplored spots there that even the most adventurous hounds haven't tapped yet, including myself.

                                1. re: mdpilam

                                  Anyone know La Mexicana's hours? I was actually down that way last night at around 10, but when I pulled into that plaza intending to finally try it out, it was closed.

                              3. Thanks all for the additional recs. I will try and check them out, when I get a chance.

                                Side note, anyone know of a place in DC (proper) that I can get fresh corn tortillas (and also some fresh salsa on par with La Placita)?

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: mdpilam

                                  Went to La Mexican bakery yesterday. I liked the tacos, but the carnitas were a bit burnt and the sopes were not that great. I prefer El Costalila by far.

                                  1. re: ChewFun

                                    Agreed. La Mexicana's tacos are good, but El Costalila's are more consistent. The latter also offer more choices as to meat and the sopes are superior.

                                    1. re: ChewFun

                                      Had to go back here for, well, know!

                                      I had a Ceviche tostada - It was good, spicier than El Costalila's, and in more of a tomato-based sauce - More like Salsa than EC's which is more like Pico, with finely diced vegetables.

                                      Birria tacos were good, but not as flavorful as EC - And a tad greasy as someone mentioned .

                                      Carnitas were wonderful! Crispy but not overly so (And yes, I had something here a few years ago, can't remember what , that was burnt so I know what you mean CF) - But today they were PERFECT, good flavor, and a little slice of heaven.

                                      Salsas - eh - nothing special. Monkeyerotica mentions "Consistency" and I have to agree that this may be the biggest downfall of La Mexicana - It offers some delicious bites, but you may have to wade through the mediocre to get there....