All words: Dana Bleiberg
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Walking into Taqueria Nacional transports you to a neighborhood taqueria in Monterrey or Mexico City. The long narrow building on the corner of T Street and 14th, is divided into three distinct rooms using design elements. The first “room” you walk into is an exterior courtyard with a large window opening the building up to the outside. Next is a living room with a mismatch of dining room tables and chairs and closest to the food counter is designed to be an interior courtyard. Design elements such as mailbox tray holders and trashcans pay homage to the buildings history as a post office. Everything about the building is inviting and homey, carefully and thoroughly designed by Kristina Crenshaw and the design & architecture team at the firm Streetsense.
Taqueria Nacional is run by John Fulchino and chef Anne Cashion’s, the same team behind Cashion’s Eat Place and Johnny’s on the Half Shell (in fact, the taqueria concept actually started due to the lease on Johnny’s of the Half Shell requiring them to provide take out food). The little taqueria garnered a lot of attention almost immediately and was named one of the best new Mexican restaurants in 2007 by Bon Appetit magazine, then got a medal of distinction from the Mexican Embassy in 2009, and then of course Anne Cashion herself was awarded a James Beard award in 2004.
Taqueria Nacional, as with all of Fulchino and Cashion’s endeavors, uses only organic and sustainable ingredients. As Fulchino said, “Where else can you get an organic taco from a James Beard Award-winning chef for only $3?” The restaurant is set up with a food counter, so you order what taco filling (that goes for quesadillas too) you would like and then go down the line to customize your toppings. All tacos are served on corn tortillas.
The lamb taco is delicious with tender, slow roasted lamb served with the house pickled vegetables. Warning – the vegetables are pickled with jalapeño slices and have a nice kick to them. The fish taco is amazingly crunchy (we spent 10 minutes photographing the dish first and it was still crunchy) and is served with cabbage and a creamy salsa.
The menu has great vegetarian options as well, such as an egg taco which we got with vegan pinto beans. The eggs are scrambled with mild green chilies and are moist without being too runny. The quesadillas can be ordered with any of the taco fillings and are exactly what you want from a quesadilla. Cheesy, gooey, and and completely satisfyingly unhealthy. The two salsa options are green and red. The green is a spicy tomatillo and the red a roasted tomato salsa. While I usually go for spice over anything, the flavor of the roasted tomatoes won me over.
When you get to the end of the food counter, you will see the drink counter. Serving seasonal aqua fresca and horchata, both of which you can spike with tequila or rum (you will want to) and insanely delicious frozen margaritas. The frozen margarita is made with house made simple syrup and fresh lime juice. This is one frozen margarita that is not cloyingly sweet. Eventually sangria, beer and more cocktails will be added to the menu.
On Saturdays and Sunday from 10:00am – 12:00pm brunch is served. Brunch includes breakfast tacos, heuvos rancheros, cornmeal pancakes, and fresh fruit with homemade crema. Taqueria Nacional is open starting at 11:00am on weekdays staying open until 10:00pm Sunday-Monday, until 11:00pm Tuesday-Thursday and until midnight Friday-Saturday. Tacos start at $2.50 and go up to $3.50.