“This is it,” I thought to myself. “This is the best taco I’ve ever eaten in my life.”
I had read about the lines at farmer’s markets for Suzanne Simon and Bettina Stern’s taco stand, but didn’t really know much about it. The other day, I decided to go see for myself, and I am *so glad* I found out early on about Chaia.
First, the location: Chaia is on Grace Street, which is just a few feet off of Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, south of Georgetown Park Mall – it’s *right there* off Wisconsin, and even has a little sign directing pedestrians to “tacos and beer” – don’t let the words fool you.
Having read their website before I went, I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for, and I also had a pretty good idea of what I was going to order. One thing of great importance: Chaia is a daytime-only taqueria: Tuesdays through Saturdays it closes at 8PM, and on Sundays, it closes at 6PM – it’s closed altogether on Mondays. Please don’t forget this, or you’re going to show up and find a closed taqueria.
And they serve beer, too – in keeping with their “hyper-local” theme, the two breweries they sell are Port City Brewing and Atlas Brew Works. Don’t make the same mistake I did: Donnie Boy just *had* to have a beer with his tacos, and for no particular reason, so I started off with a plastic cup of Atlas Brew Works Rowdy Rye ($5). Why in God’s name I did this, I don’t know – Chaia sells cold-pressed juice from Misfit Juicery and seasonal shrubs, and non-alcoholic beverages are what you should be paying attention to here, unless you *really* like hop-laden beers at the opportunity cost of something truly special. Read on for another reason not to succumb to the temptation of ordering a beer.
I got the Market Trio ($11), saving all of twenty-five cents from the à la carte taco prices of $3.75. You should ignore this special, and order however many tacos you want, and get whatever sounds good. Still, three tacos were just about right for me, and gave me a chance to try three different versions, the top three on the list:
1) Mushroom with feta, red sauce, and cilantro
2) Smoky Collards with queso cotija, tomatillo salsa, and pickled radish
3) Creamy Kale + Potato with pepperjack, polano crema, green sauce, and pickled onions. On this one taco, I sprung for a fried, pasture-raised egg ($1.50, available weekends only) – I’m a sucker for eggs and potatoes together, since they conjure up memories of diner breakfasts..
I’d gotten my beer first, and nursed it throughout the meal. Note that you’re not allowed to go out on the patio if you order beer, so if you want to eat outside, keep it non-alcoholic.
Wanting to enjoy the egg while it was hot and runny, I ate my tacos in the order 3), 1), 2), and as I was about one-third of the way into the Kale and Potato taco, I paused, and said to myself, “My God, this is the single greatest taco I’ve ever eaten.” I know it’s California-style, and that it’s vegetarian, but I don’t care – this was not only the best taco I’ve ever eaten, it was the best quick-serve food I’ve ever eaten (think what that’s saying). The corn tortillas are unbelievable, and the combination of ingredients on this taco was perfect. Do yourself a favor and *get the egg* with this – I could not believe what I was eating, and even cheated a little bit by dripping some of the egg yolk onto the other two tacos (only a few drops, as I didn’t want to flirt with ruining perfection).
Read that previous paragraph as many times as you need to read it – get this taco, and get it with an egg. In fact, get *three* of these tacos, and get *each one* with an egg. It’ll set you back $15.50, and you’ll love yourself (and me!) forever and ever.
The Mushroom taco was next up, and it was fantastic as well, with thinly sliced mushrooms that picked up everything because they were so thin. A few days ago, I complimented the Wild Mushroom Taco at Virtue Feed & Grain – allow me to paraphrase my dear friend Terry Theise: ‘I like tortilla chips, and I like truffles, and I also have no problem recognizing which of the two is better.’ It’s the same situation here: Virtue’s Wild Mushroom Taco was tasty bar food; Chaia’s Mushroom Taco was a great and profound taco by taqueria standards – there’s a huge difference between the two, and if you like mushrooms, get over here and order this – it would also be terrific with an egg.
Then came the collards, and this is why I should have gotten a cold-pressed juice: the collards are, by nature, bitter, and the rye-based beer was loaded with bitter hops – it was bitter on bitter, and literally left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, even as I was driving over the Memorial Bridge to get home it was still there, in a pronounced way. This is a *very* collard-greenish taco, and you have to really love collard greens to love this (think about the collard greens you get at barbecue shacks, without any of the pork they usually put in them). I’m not saying ‘don’t order this,’ merely that you should be prepared for a blast of collard greens, and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then you’ll really enjoy it.
As a boxed set, for $11, this was a fantastic meal, and I cannot recommend Chaia enough, both for vegetarians, and also for lovers of California (San Francisco, not Los Angeles) taquerias. This food was fantastic, and I contend that the first taco was the single greatest taco I’ve ever eaten in my life. I don’t like putting pictures into my reviews, because I think it’s lazy, and ruins the surprise for the reader when they get to the restaurant. However, in this case I’m going to make an exception, because this food is so beautiful, and tastes so good, that you’ll be surprised no matter what I publish. Here you go:
Enjoy your meal, and thank me later. Chaia is strongly initialized in Italic, and is one of the very greatest taquerias this city has ever known. It’s also quite possibly the best quick-serve restaurant in DC, and happens to be the only one currently run by women. You’re going to love this place.