Neon Taco Outshines Other Hill Munchies

When it’s a Friday night and you’re a couple margaritas deep, there’s nothing better than some authentic Mexican street food. So when I heard Capitol Hill’s festive cantina Nacho Borracho was opening a new taco counter called Neon Taco, I figured I’d test it out. (You know, as a service to my fellow weekend warriors.)

nicole SCHLAEPPI  •  The Spectator
nicole SCHLAEPPI • The Spectator

Neon Taco is a new Mexican street food attachment to the already existant bar NachoBorracho

I’ve never been to the Nacho Borracho location on Capitol Hill before Neon Taco. Compared to their downtown location, it’s definitely more “the Hill”­—darker, louder and full of tattooed/colorful-haired people. The walls are covered in faded posters of droll characters and stiff portraits, and the ceilings are draped with colorful banners. The lighting is minimal, but dramatic and reddish in tone, making the atmosphere feel like the room of my friend who first introduced me to weed in high school. You know the feel—cozy and dark, a little eccentric and full of weird knick knacks.

nicole SCHLAEPPI  •  The Spectator
nicole SCHLAEPPI • The Spectator

Neon Taco is a new Mexican street food attachment to the already existant bar NachoBorracho.

At 9 p.m. on a Friday night, the bar was already full of people in booths, chatting over their beer and margaritas. The Main Arcade, a local DJ, was spinning some downtempo breakbeats with uplifting pop melodies at the first end of the bar on vinyl. A glowing “Tacos” sign caught my eye from across the room. It looked like something off of Pinterest: curly adorable lettering in white marquee-style lights. It cast a somewhat sweet, whimsical vibe to the service window below.

The cutesy lettering was misleading. The tacos they serve at Neon Taco are NOT sweet, adorable or innocent—they’re bold, spicy, full of rich flavor and worth every penny.

I ordered three types of tacos (ranging from $3-$4 each), and I convinced my friend to order an assortment of morsels as well. In all, we sampled the flautas ($8) and a mini quesadilla ($8) in addition to one each of the brisket, lengua, mushroom and squash, and soft pork rind tacos. The soft pork rind tacos were an accident; I must have mumbled when ordering, because instead of getting the fried pork rinds I anticipated gorging on, I got a small, unassuming taco filled with a squishy beige substance.

nicole SCHLAEPPI  •  The Spectator
nicole SCHLAEPPI • The Spectator

Neon Taco is a new Mexican street food attachment to the already existant bar NachoBorracho

It was a silky, fatty strip of soaked pork rind nestled in some lettuce and appropriate spicy taco accoutrements all wrapped up in a tender tortilla, and it was probably one of the best tacos I’ve had in my life. The flavor was excellent, and the texture of the pork rind blew me away; I’d say it’s worth the $4. What else are you going to spend that money on? Another beer? No. Just get the taco. It’s better than the beer and will give you similar feelings of euphoria.

Plus one for Neon Taco.

We sat at the bar because the booths were jammed full of chatty Hill-folk; immediately, a bartender attended us and we ordered house margaritas (also delicious; not too sweet, not too full of tequila, but not shy either). The service was quick, just friendly enough and professional—within about 10 minutes of ordering at the window, the diner-style baskets were plopped in front of us. The lengua and brisket tacos were of similar caliber to the pork rind taco, with great texture and just enough spiciness to make it interesting (my friend said it was way too spicy, so take my opinion with a tall glass of milk).

nicole SCHLAEPPI  •  The Spectator
nicole SCHLAEPPI • The Spectator

Neon Taco is a new Mexican street food attachment to the already existant bar NachoBorracho

The mushroom and squash taco was the other highlight; I was expecting something a little bland, but the combination of the two main ingredients and the spicy and creamy sauces elevated a relatively simple taco into a delicious vegetarian treat. The other menu items we ordered were less awesome, but still quite satisfying for a slightly tipsy person with a craving for authentic Mexican street food.

The last piece that made Neon Taco/Nacho Borracho great was the music. When I go out to bars like Nacho Borracho, I’m there to be a libatious, animated social animal, and the type of the music they play in such a place must complement that mission. The Main Arcade played an assortment of “new funk” music that kept me grooving on my increasingly harder-to-balance-on stool. Although the volume may have been a tad excessive for some, the tasteful tunes kept the mood light and happy throughout the evening.

I left Neon Taco a happy customer—pleasantly buzzed and feeling the spice lingering. No big existential awakenings for me this time around, but I was changed for the better thanks to an unexpected pork rind taco.

Alyssa Brandt

Alyssa Brandt is a senior and lead designer who loves all things brain-related. She likes illustrating and sugary cereals, and will eventually go to graduate school to pursue a PhD in neuroscience.


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