Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: District Taco

It was just a few years ago, back in 2009, when District Taco began as a food truck, bringing its made-fresh-daily take on Mexican food to the Washington, D.C. area, but in that short amount of time the operation has expanded with the opening of a much-beloved restaurant in Arlington in 2010, and plans to do the same in the District soon.

The ethos of District Taco is to serve “food that is fresh, simple and healthy.” A single taco is evidence enough. It starts with fresh – crunchy, delicious vegetables mingling in salsas and tucked into tortillas for flavorful impact. Simple comes next, because when quality ingredients are brought into the mix, no bells and whistles are needed. Healthy may well become an afterthought for diners when digging in, as little can be considered past the excellent taste. But those are the restaurant’s goals; its catch-phrase is “Orale,” a positive exclamation they translate to “Right On.” It’s almost a reminder that food can be made deliberately, but still be a celebration.

Like the cuisine, the Arlington storefront is simple – basic furnishings, tables and chairs. Festive green, orange and red colors cover the walls, which are accented by chalkboard signs. A salsa bar in the dining area provides a few toppings like chopped cilantro and onion and a range of salsas for all manner of heat seekers. Diners place orders at a central counter, from behind which the scent and sizzle of meats cooking at a grill emanates. The restaurant’s Mexican fare is constructed in an assembly line that wraps around the counter. The whole operation is visible to taco-eager patrons who, with Spanish-to-English flash cards in hand – used to denote the order, a fun and charming touch – await their customized meals.

Morning diners have their choice of breakfast tacos and burritos, packed with layers of scrambled egg and potato, or the Huevos Rancheros platter of over-hard eggs with rice, beans, corn tortilla, and various fixins. Come 11 a.m., the full menu opens up, and the possibilities expand. Tacos and burritos remain, but a greater number of dishes are offered, like tortilla-free burrito bowls, sauce-slathered Burrito Mojados, and topping-heavy nachos.

Satisfying heartier afternoon and evening appetites are five protein elements which become the focus of the dishes. Beef comes slow-cooked and shredded as barbacoa, or as grilled and chopped steak pieces. Pork gets the same slow-cooked treatment for shredded carnitas, but also comes chili-seasoned and served with chopped pineapple, providing a bit of sweetness that doesn’t overwhelm the meat. The stand-out among the meats is the grilled chicken, chopped into peppered pieces with slightly crunchy exteriors that make for excellent taste and texture that stands up to the many toppings that stand atop whatever taco or burrito the meat occupies.

Vegetarians need not be disappointed, though, as meat-free orders come with a free helping of delicious, tangy guacamole (and meat lovers can double up by adding pieces of bacon or crumbled chorizo to their meal for an additional charge).

District Taco has fresh, simple and healthy covered, but its prices are brag-worthy, too. Tacos – brimming with meats and toppings – cost $2.25 apiece, burritos and similar dishes cost about $7, and no dish costs more than the $9 Ceviche de Camarones of marinated shrimp with tortilla chips. The four qualities combined are enough to elicit an “Orale” from any patron.

District Taco is located at 5723 Lee Highway, Arlington. For more information, call 703-237-1204 or visit districttaco.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Wednesday: 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Thursday – Sunday: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.