David Peña and his popular La Tingeria food truck that’s been serving tacos in Arlington since 2012 are moving to Falls Church to open a brick and mortar restaurant.
The new location at 626 S. Washington Street is set to open next month (December), Peña tells ARLnow, and will be offering all the favorites for carry-out, including queso birria tacos, chicken tinga, tostadas, frescas, and fried quesadillas.
Usually parked along S. Courthouse Road next to Penrose Park on weekends, the truck has drawn long lines and a need for a bigger cooking space, Peña says. That led him to take the plunge into a permanent location. He wanted to stay in Arlington, but the rent just too high.
“I tried my hardest to find somewhere in Arlington,” Peña says.
He considered spots along Columbia Pike and in Crystal City, but in the end, went with a three-story space in Falls Church about a mile and a half from the East Falls Church Metro Station.
The first floor will be the restaurant, the second floor will be a tattoo shop run by a friend of Peña’s, and the third floor will be office space. Well-known Arlington-based artist Mas Paz, who initially designed La Tingeria’s logo a number of years ago, painted the restaurant’s interior.
Peña began his career in the local restaurant industry more than a decade ago, serving as a sous chef at Rustico in Alexandria and, then, moving to its Ballston location.
It was during this time, he started perfecting his recipes, serving them up at the end of the day to his colleagues.
“They’re called family meals,” Peña says. “At the end of the day, the [leftovers] or the food that’s going to go bad, you put it all together and make some meal for the employees.”
It was his tinga that was most popular.
“Tinga is the marination of the meat,” he says. “So, when we have beef tinga, we braise the beef for eight hours, shred it up, add caramelized onions, and add chipotle-garlic sauce.”
In late 2012, he struck out of his own and opened a food truck that traveled around Arlington, serving lunch on weekdays in Ballston, Courthouse, Wilson Blvd, and Rosslyn.
Peña was comfortable, he says, and never anticipated opening a restaurant. But then the pandemic struck. He thought, like many, that lockdown would only last a few weeks, but it turned into months.
He had always parked his truck S. Courthouse Road but never served at that location, preferring to serve the weekday office crowds rather than the more residential areas around Columbia Pike. In July 2020, he decided to try it out, opening up on weekends next to Penrose Park.
“I was bored, missed cooking, and just needed to be busy,” he says. “I didn’t even honestly think I was going to make a profit.”
He did, though, and the truck became more busy than ever, with long lines, all waiting to get some of his chicken, beef, or goat tinga.
Also, his move to serving meat that’s halal opened a “whole new customer base,” he says.
Earlier this year, after seeing his sales nearly triple, Peña made the decision to make the move to open a standalone shop.
“I got to the point where either, ‘This is what you want to do for the rest of your life or just quit now and go work for somebody else,'” he says.
The hope is that his famed taco truck won’t be off Arlington streets forever. While he’s currently concentrating on opening the new shop, Peña is considering bringing the truck back out in the spring.
It’s been a journey, Peña says, from the self-doubt that came with starting something new, and some of the mechanical problems that plagued his truck in its early days.
“I would be like, ‘Man, am I doing this right?,” he said. “But then, I’ll get a review that says ‘Oh my God, I just tried this taco and it was amazing.’ That’s what’s really kept me pushing to do bigger, better things.”
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