The secret has been out for a while now: The source for some of the area's most mouthwatering pork, fish and chorizo tacos is on the Hill, behind Johnny's Half Shell, in a charming carryout whose wood rafters, colorful tile floors and bouncy music instantly make you glad to be there. What a lot of chowhounds might not know is that the tiny Taqueria Nacionale also offers daily specials, printed on a chalkboard out front, that celebrate a hit parade of American favorites. "We did it for people who couldn't do tacos every day," says manager Wayne Combs. Monday finds a hamburger covered with pimento cheese; Wednesday yields chicken pot pies. Friday most moves me to action. That's when the kitchen whips up shrimp jambalaya ($7), a riot of sweet shrimp, tomato-tinted rice, zesty andouille sausage and soft peppers that wards off winter's chill as it sticks to the ribs. While big glass jugs of agua fresca beckon to put out the fire (the mango-lime punch is particularly refreshing), this time of year I'm inclined to sip something warm. Taqueria Nacionale comes through, whipping up one of the area's best hot chocolates, creamy with whole milk and (barely) sweet with Spanish chocolate.
--Tom Sietsema (Dec. 16, 2007)
Most of what you may have heard about Taqueria Nacionale isn't true: It isn't tucked away down an alley. It isn't only a small window. And they do sell more than just tacos.
Of course, it's only natural that when a joint this authentic opens, chowhounds want to believe they've discovered a hole-in-the-wall gem. And though Ann Cashion and John Fulchino's latest venture was inspired by the humble taco trucks in Los Angeles, the Capitol Hill takeout is anything but down and dirty. Tucked into the C-SPAN building right behind their Johnny's Half Shell (and sharing the same kitchen), the stylish space is alight with brightly colored Mexican tile floors and painted wooden saints: more Rosa Mexicano than Distrito Federal.
But don't let the upscale vibe fool you. The food is (almost) as good as you'd find at any L.A. strip mall. In the morning, there is quezadilla ($2), a Salvadoran bread made with parmesan cheese that somehow manages to be both sweet and savory and goes deliciously with a cup of black coffee. More popular are the breakfast tacos: simple egg and cheese in a traditional double layer of corn tortilla ($2). They're tasty but plain, and you'll certainly need two to satisfy you. Add some spice by ordering one with a few strips of bacon or generous chunks of chorizo ($2.30) and topping it with your choice of one of the three house-made salsas; the medium-heat green tomatillo version adds just the right kick.
Lunch is where the tacos shine. The taqueria offers beef, pork, chicken, bean and a classic Baja fish taco with crunchy cabbage and the traditional white sauce, each served in an individual box made of recyclable material. The beef was underwhelming on our visit, full of fatty, gristly pieces, but the pork and chicken were both juicy and flavorful, and the fish tacos, packed with hunks of Alaskan pollock, were fresh and greaselessly fried. The only way to improve them is to order a side of yucca fries ($1.50) or a cool glass of horchata ($2.50), which Cashion makes the Spanish way from chufa, a nut of Middle Eastern origin, unlike the Mexican version with rice. The result is a stylish and surprisingly tasty treat. Just like Taqueria Nacionale.
-- Jane Black (July 25, 2007)