Tacos El Chilango


Editorial Review

Tacos, without tracking a truck
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The August arrival of Tacos el Chilango in Washington means patrons can take a seat to eat what was previously available only from a food truck of the same name in Rossyln.

The bricks-and-mortar business near U Street NW is owned by Juan Antonio Santacruz, whose older brother, Jesus, operates the kitchen on wheels off Route 50. Both men were born in Mexico City, where they grew up with six other siblings in a home fronted by a taqueria run by their parents. (Chilango is Spanish slang for “native of Mexico City.”)

The new restaurant has a mere 15 seats, but it packs in a lot of color. Squares of cut paper -- papel picado -- flutter from the ceiling, while the walls display vivid paintings of such Mexican icons as revolutionary Emiliano Zapata Salazar and actress Maria Felix, “the Marilyn Monroe” of his homeland, says Juan Antonio.

Ordered at a rear counter, the signature dish comes in nine flavors, three of them vegetarian. The best of the bunch finds diced pork sweetened with pineapple between two-ply grilled corn tortillas, followed in order of preference by the zesty filling of crumbled chorizo and a stuffing of melted Oaxacan cheese with crisp green peppers. Diced boiled beef tongue goes down like roast beef. It’s pleasant. Diced steak is salty; chopped chicken is routine. A small condiment bar lets customers crank up the heat of their meal with green (tomatillo) and red (chili) salsas.

It’s fun to watch the cooks whip up a batch of guacamole, made using the owner’s mother’s recipe, although the chunky avocado mash I got was overwhelmed by cilantro and could have used salt.

Open for dinner Mondays through Saturdays, Tacos el Chilango recently started serving lunch on Saturdays as well. A liquor license is pending. For now, diners have a choice of three agua frescas and a cooler of sodas to tame any flames.

Juan Antonio sounds as if he misses the shop on wheels when he says: “The truck is much more personal. Here it’s next, next, next!” His business, however, has an advantage over his brother’s, where the shortage of space means no fruit juices or meatless tacos.

Score one for vegetarians.