Juliet Kim

It looked, if you weren’t paying attention, like the Tortas y Tacos La Chiquita food truck had become a classic victim of gentrification.

The vehicle—an old-school, beat-up minibus of a food truck, not a graphic-designed esoteric “mobile restaurant concept”—had for years been serving up its eponymous tacos and tortas in the parking lot of a Food Star grocery store at the corner of S. George Mason Drive and Columbia Pike in Arlington.

The truck was reliably crowded, but in an instant it was gone and the parking lot was fenced off as the Food Star met its demise in May. In its place will be a Harris Teeter/retail/apartment combo come 2019, according to Arl Now, as the wave of gentrification continues its relentless roll west on Columbia Pike.

It seemed likely that the tacos—crisp-edged carnitas and perfectly-cooked lengua and all the rest—were gone, soon to be replaced by the watered down version from whatever Baja Moe’s would peddle. Instead, there’s much better news. Tortas y Tacos La Chiquita has swapped its food truck for an actual storefront about a mile east on Columbia Pike, nestled directly alongside the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse.

Styrofoam plates and boxes, at least for dine-in orders, have been replaced by brightly colored plates. Gone too is the sun-scorched parking lot and bench nailed to the front fender of the van. Instead, diners can sit on high-top and low tables, or at a counter all surrounded by jauntily painted walls.

Not gone, though, are the straightforward tacos ($2.75-$3 a piece) that come with two small tortilla rounds topped with the filling of your choice, chopped onions and cilantro, and some sliced radishes, with wedges of lime on the side. Some (including the fish, with seasoned and grilled tilapia) come with avocado, and you can add their house hot sauces—green or red—from squeeze bottles to taste. Don’t miss the carnitas and lengua, the tangy al pastor, or the mixto.

And the new storefront comes with new taco selections, like cuerito de puerco—tacos filled with unctuous, seasoned soft pork skin that leaves the tortillas soaked through with orange grease. Also new on the menu are huaraches (a topped fried flat round of masa) and elote (Mexican-style corn on the cob) and desserts. The tortas are also well loved, but when the tacos are so good, it’s very difficult to order anything else.

A surprise perk of the new space is that you get to look at all those tacos on their way to the tables. 

Tacos y Tortas La Chiquita, 2911 Columbia Pike, Arlington; (571) 970-2824