9 Taco Spots We Love in the Washington, D.C. Area

[Photographs: Abbey Becker, unless otherwise noted]

Growing up, taco night at my house meant a trip to the "international foods" aisle at the grocery store for a box of taco shells, a packet of taco meat seasoning, a jar of salsa, can of refried beans, and maybe some chopped green chiles. My mom would put out small bowls filled with grated cheddar, shredded lettuce, sliced black olives, a container of sour cream with a spoon, and the almighty giant bowl of crumbly ground beef cooked with that super salty seasoning blend. Taco night was possibly my favorite meal night.

But I've come a long way from the over-spiced ground beef in stale yellow shells. When trying to find the best tacos in the D.C.-area, here was our criteria:

Quality of tortilla: Not stale; totally pliable; tender; shouldn't be pale. Should taste like corn if it's corn and if flour, should be flaky, blistered, lard-y.

Fillings: The carnitas should be juicy, fatty, and have crisp bits. Al pastor should be made on a spit with a pineapple on top. Tongue, cheek and other head-meat shouldn't be rubbery. Chorizo should be warm-spiced. Fish can be grilled or fried but should include cabbage, avocado, and some kind of crema on top. (Sorry, no veggie tacos this time around.)

Salsa: Shouldn't be watered down; should have bright acidity, and if tomato is involved, it's fresh, not mealy.

We ventured outside the District proper into Maryland and northern Virginia too in search of the area's best tacos. Here are nine favorites for al pastor, goat, pollo, carnitas and more.

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