(MC Hammer I am not.) Last time I visited Kantutas (2462 Ennalls), nearly two years ago, I enjoyed the pumpkin soup. Turns out they don’t make that anymore, at least not on the day of my recent return, and I got the sense that it is rarely if ever available now. Which is a bummer, because the dish I tried this time around wasn’t as excellent.
Kantutas is a Bolivian hole in the wall, almost literally: it must have the least square footage of any Wheaton restaurant, smaller even than Gloria’s Island Hut. I want to like it: the owners are superfriendly and it is the only local Bolivian eatery as far as I know, plus there’s this endearing 2009 Gazette article. Certainly the Bolivian community knows about it: every seat was taken when I stopped by for lunch (takeout, lucky for me). According to this story in last Saturday’s WaPo, the DC suburbs have the highest Bolivian population in the United States, and I think they all eat lunch at Kantutas.
I tried the pique macho, which is sort of salchipapas on steroids: the same melange of thick-cut fries and hot dog pieces in gravy, but adding other ingredients like a bunch of pieces of beef, hard-boiled egg, and what appeared to be an entire sliced tomato. The wikipedias say the “macho” is because you are a macho macho man (or woman) if you can finish the entire huge portion yourself; I could have, but wisely chose not to. The portion is indeed quite large, easily enough for two normal-sized, normal-hunger-level people, and so at $12.50 is a pretty good deal. But while it tastes just fine and fills you right up, there isn’t anything special about it, it’s just a plate of potatoes and meats and veggies in gravy, no better and perhaps not as good as any number of lomo saltado (for example) offerings at other Wheaton restaurants.
I also tried a chicken empanada, which looked great, golden-brown and crisp outside, but while the filling was delicately flavorful and replete with meat, egg, and raisins, the dough surprisingly lacked flavor. More problematic, though, was when I took my first bite the thing exploded like a savory wet Bolivian grenade. Good thing I was wearing a sweater I didn’t care about. Despite some degree of depressurization after bite one, my insufficiently cautious bite two resulted in additional shrapnel. If there is a next time, I will bring my lobster bib, or maybe a hazmat suit. Nobody ever said dining in Wheaton’s feral culinary underbelly would be all beer and skittles…