Somewhere in Columbia Heights is a restaurant owned by a couple—let’s just call them Abuelito and Abuelita—who cooks up food the likes of which is only found in Mexico. Like Diego Rivera subjects, they are quiet, humble yet brimming with energy. Every Friday morning, Abuelita grinds corn by hand, and Abuelito turns them into some of the freshest tamales you’ve ever tasted. Tortillas are made from scratch as well.
I call the underground Taqueria Juquilita when we arrive, and the couple’s son appears in a window to toss down the keys. I reach out my hands, trip over my feet and miss the drop. Behind me, I hear an exasperated sigh. Once inside the building, we ascend a flight of stairs to the apartment. Did I mention that the restaurant is in their apartment? On the menu are quesadillas with spicy, tangy squash blossoms with mozzarella-like Oaxacan cheese and lettuce. Order tamales in a homemade mole sauce (pictured) and it is like eating a freshly picked ear of corn.
“Not like other places that use canned corn!” Abuelito exclaims in a thick accent and kind eyes. He is standing in the kitchen, wearing a chef’s jacket. We whole-heartedly agree. There are family photos on the wall. Someone just graduated high school. The Virgin of Juquila stands high above our heads.
Today’s special is taquitos—crunchy, deep-fried rolled tortillas stuffed with portica cheese and black beans, topped with a very generous dollop of sour cream. Order the fresh watermelon juice, and it comes in a giant plastic tumbler, like you’re a kid in your mom’s kitchen again. If you have machismo, order the beef brain tacos (pictured). It tastes like the meat left over from making stock. A little squishy and bland, but nothing a little salsa can’t liven up. Al pastor tacos are very popular, made with tender pork loin in a spicy red sauce.
Fresh, homemade salsas line the table. There is pico de gallo, salsa verde, salsa roja, and a lethal salsa made from the habanero plant sunning in the window. There is only one large table to dine on, and we share it with strangers. Yet in the end, we all agree on one thing—this is the food you would find in Mexico. There are also tacos with pork brains, steak with cactus, beef tongue and fried pork. The highly recommended tamales (pictured) come in vegetarian poblano pepper and green salsa with chicken, and all items come with your choice of onions and cilantro.
Abuelito and Abuelita have been in business for a long time, and stay pretty busy through word of mouth. There was no check to determine the cost of individual items, but between three people, we had eight dishes and a few drinks for $46. Not bad for a taqueria that doesn’t exist. The underground tacqueria is open Saturdays and Sundays from 7 am – 7 pm.
Editor’s note: Due to the family’s privacy, their contact info will not be posted here.
Mary was born and raised in New York City where her family owned restaurants. Instead of eating dirt on the playground, she ate duck blood, beef tripe and pork belly. She cut her teeth at The Mandarin Oriental and The Ritz-Carlton hotels, working with Barbra Streisand, Vanessa Williams, Michael Stipe, LeVar Burton, Jane Krakowski and others. Mary founded Girl Meets Food in 2009 as a cover for her debilitating addiction to fried chicken and was named Washington Post’s “Favorite Local Foodie.” After 13 years in hospitality, she started freelance writing for USA Today, The Washington Post, Eater, Washington City Paper, and more. Today, she provides digital marketing for hospitality clients as a content creator who’s contently creating content.