reviews of tacos!

Taqueria Juquilita (AKA Secret Taco)

Washington DC (Columbia Heights)

a couple blocks from the Columbia Heights Metro
sat & sun ONLY, 7am-7pm

Taqueria Juquilita/Secret Taco (Washington DC Columbia Heights) - taco review

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Rating: 87
Price: $$$

The To-Go

A speakeasy-style taco shop in a Columbia Heights apartment building. Worth a trip for the experience! Tacos are good, but not legendary.

The Sit-Down

Here are some things that most taco places have:
1. Menus
2. Tables & chairs
3. A grill
4. Tacos
5. Intangibles that create a restaurant vibe - for example, separating the kitchen from the eating area, or some sort of health certification.

"Prix fixe" places tend to ignore #1, while taco trucks eliminate #2. I'm not sure who ignores #3, but Taco Bell might. Of course, nobody could skip #4, and only Taqueria Juquilita (or, as I've always known it, Secret Taco) has been bold enough to skip #5.

I actually found out about while living in Madison. When business associate Kaitlin (a former DC resident) found out I owned, operated, and profited extensively from the world's leading taco reviewing website, she told me about this legendary DC taco establishment. When visiting DC for a wedding, business associate Gomes and I decided to give it a shot. The "legendary" part of Secret Taco is the location: it's in a large brick apartment building, inside of a small apartment. In the living room/kitchen, there are a couple folding tables and chairs with some dishes of salsa. The shelves and walls are covered with various things that people keep in their homes - perfumes, pictures of children, a television. The room is pretty cramped; fortunately, there were only 3 other people there to eat when we arrived.

The menu is simple, but not limited. There are 7 taco options, which tilt heavily towards the facial sections of large mammals - no chicken lips here. Secret Taco has cow & pig head (cabeza de res & puerco), and cow brain (sesos de res) & tongue (lengua). The other filling options are cuts made from the bodies of animals: a thin-sliced beef with cactus (cesina con nopales), classic fried pork (carnitas), and a marinated pork (al pastor). After some deliberation, I went for the three non-cranial meats: cesina, carnitas, and al pastor. My more adventurous compadre ordered the lengua, sesos, and carnitas.

Because the place was small, we could see exactly what our cook was up to, and there was no dilly-dallying in the preparation of our tacos. The tacos were on single corn tortillas, topped with chopped onion and cilantro. They were also filled to maximum capacity or more - though not quite to Sabor Queretano levels, I wasn't able to eat any of my tacos without some loss of toppings. (Please note: considers this a good thing). The first taco I went for, on the far right side of my plate, was the carnitas. It was a very tender beef and felt as though it had been marinated, though the flavor was only mildly salted. The seasoning and flavors were good, but I didn't get an excellent cut of meat - a few of my pieces had significant amounts of fat on them, which I'm not a huge fan of.

Next, I started from the opposite end and had the cesina con nopales. Ever since the first time I had cesina (I can't remember where and when - maybe at Tulcingo?) I've been a huge fan. After all, how can you mess up thinly-sliced salted beef? Cesina follows the principle behind the cheesesteak, which is an all-time great food, and Secret Taco's cesina did not disappoint. Though the cactus didn't add much noticeable flavor, the steak was salty and chewy and delicious. I piled this one high with fresh pico de gallo and enjoyed every bite.

Finally, I finished off with the al pastor. It had a redder marinade than most al pastor's, which was a little worrying; however, the flavor was excellent. There were visible pineapple fragments, which were like little flavor explosions when you got one in your bite. This taco paired especially well with Secret Taco's smoky garlic salsa. There were 4 options out on the table for toppings, in small clay dishes - a smoky garlic salsa which, as mentioned, went great with the al pastor and was medium spicy; a thin red salsa, which was extremely potent and had a bit of tomato flavor; a fresh pico de gallo, which I liked to combine with the thin red salsa on my cesina; and a thin guacamole, which was grear on the carnitas. The many salsa options were an unexpected bonus.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at Secret Taco. The living room experience was interesting, though a bit cramped - on the plus side, the cook did enjoy watching me take pictures of my empty plate. The tacos were good, but apart from the al pastor not remarkable. And, the prices were not low - the basic tacos were $3 a pop. I'm not sure if that's just "big city prices" for a small-town yokel like me (after all, Distrito Federal's came in at $2.59 apiece), and they were well filled as a redeeming factor. If you can spare a few bucks on a saturday or sunday, Secret Taco is definitely worth a trip next time you're in DC.

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