Local feature descriptor is an important module for face recognition and those like Gabor and local binary patterns (LBP) have proven effective face descriptors. Traditionally, the form of such local descriptors is predefined in a handcrafted way. In this paper, we propose a method to learn a discriminant face descriptor (DFD) in a data-driven way. The idea is to learn the most discriminant local features that minimize the difference of the features between images of the same person and maximize that between images from different people. In particular, we propose to enhance the discriminative ability of face representation in three aspects. First, the discriminant image filters are learned. Second, the optimal neighborhood sampling strategy is soft determined. Third, the dominant patterns are statistically constructed. Discriminative learning is incorporated to extract effective and robust features. We further apply the proposed method to the heterogeneous (cross-modality) face recognition problem and learn DFD in a coupled way (coupled DFD or C-DFD) to reduce the gap between features of heterogeneous face images to improve the performance of this challenging problem. Extensive experiments on FERET, CAS-PEAL-R1, LFW, and HFB face databases validate the effectiveness of the proposed DFD learning on both homogeneous and heterogeneous face recognition problems. The DFD improves POEM and LQP by about 4.5 percent on LFW database and the C-DFD enhances the heterogeneous face recognition performance of LBP by over 25 percent.