Category Archives: Bolivian

Meet the New Wheaton, Not Entirely Same As the Old Wheaton

Welcome to Wheaton indeed

Welcome to Wheaton indeed

Strolling around Wheaton to see what’s what these days.  Lots of what is still the same as it ever was.  Also lots of new.  The view from the intersection of Reedie/Viers Mill/Grandview encapsulates the current Wheaton state of affairs: new(ish) Welcome to Wheaton sign, with Marchone’s striped awning (old school) in background left and 17 stories of apartments (new school) background right.  A few notes:

Seoul Food, in the gas station at Georgia/University, is pretty good, full review to follow in a day or three.  Korean food but with Mexican/American elements.

La Baguette de Salvador

La Baguette de Salvador

More fusion: La Baguette de Paris French bakery (local chain?) has been open for a few months in the Max’s/Full Key strip mall on University.  Lest one expect a true Parisian patisserie, La Baguette caters to a Latino crowd, with wares more or less identical  to Caramelo. Samantha’s also has baked goods (Dulce Vida did too, next to Samantha’s, but it closed last year).  I’d be surprised if La Baguette lasts any longer than Dulce Vida did, there can’t be enough demand to sustain so much Salavadoran baking in a three block radius.  The eclairs did look good though.By the way: Max’s is still there (try the shwarma or falafel), but Shalom Kosher has moved to the Kemp Mill Shopping Center off Arcola, where it is all grown up into a full size grocery store, still with excellent meats and breads and kosherness.  Its former storefront in the Wheaton strip is currently vacant.

A commenter mentioned seeing something about a future “Taco Loco” establishment near El Pollo Rico on University, but I looked and couldn’t find anything like that.  Am I just missing it, or was it someone’s fleeting dream, or was it just a false rumor?

Someone else noted Mi La Cay is open in its new location on the Wong Gee strip on University. Mrs. Me has been to the new location and confirms it is just as good as the old one, only bigger!  MLC does excellent Vietnamese food, the fiery curries are not dialed down at all for the Western palate, I need to get over there soon.  The old MLC space behind Hung Phat is available for rent — given the success of MLC and previous tenant Nava Thai, someone ought to grab it and start something new pronto.  Hopefully Indian or some other Asian variation not yet in Wheaton — Sri Lankan? Pakistani?

The University strip space formerly occupied by Dusit Thai and Sabores (nee Gloria’s Caribbean nee Irene’s III) has been less successful and remains unleased.  Parking is a little tough right there, may be part of the problem, and the Sabores space is tiny.  But strip bookends New Kam Fong and The Chicken Place are hanging in there.

Twice the Kantutas

Twice the Kantutas

Mi La Cay isn’t the only recent expansion: Kantutas (Bolivian cuisine) has more than doubled its space on Ennals, and even has a little outdoor seating area now.  It takes a bit of hunting since it is off the main drag, but well worth the hunt. I’m so happy for the success of MLC and Kantutas, both are run by super-friendly people, and the food is outstanding, two of Wheaton’s best restaurants in fact.


Kan’t Tut Tas

(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' Pique Macho

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.

Empanada, Pre-Detonation

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…

Kantutas and Safeway

A rare weekday in Wheaton for me, I took the opportunity to get lunch at Kantutas (2462 Ennalls), where I have wanted to eat ever since they were featured in the Gazette’s October article on struggling ethnic restaurants. Tiny place, a few tables and three or four seats at a short counter, and a short menu too: just four regular dishes, which mostly appeared to be Bolivian variations on lomo saltado.  Commenters here and elsewhere have noted feeling unwelcome in certain Latino establishments, but no worries here, Maria (also featured in the article) was totally welcoming, superfriendly, and her English is plenty good enough to deal with food conversations. They have a special pumpkin soup on Fridays, which the (friendly Bolivian) guy at the counter was eating: gorgeous deep orange in color with hunks of corn on the cob and beef and chicken afloat in creamy rice-pumpkin. I got mine, and it was fabulous: meat falling off the bone tender, savory rice, cilantro, I think cumin, probably other spices I couldn’t pick out.  Very very good. I was disappointed in the cheese empanada, which was not the least bit flaky and had little filling — but it was fresh, and turned out to be ideal for sponging up the last drops of soup. If I were regularly in Wheaton for lunch on Fridays I would be back, a lot. Instead, I’ll look forward to trying a regular menu item next time.  Definitely better for takeout than eat-in, but quality food, friendly service, very quick, very affordable ($6.50 for huge soup and empanada); I hope they can eventually be removed from the endangered ethnic restaurant list. I did not ask but got the sense that gringos like me are still notably outliers among Kantutas’ clientele.

I stopped at Safeway (the one at Georgia and Reedie) on my way home, where the shelves look like all of Wheaton has been stocking up for a forty day flood. The store is closing on Saturday, December 19 at 6:00 p.m., not to reopen for two years (so say the employees), or whenever the new store (part of the new 14-story development) is ready to go. Other sources have said there will be some kind of temporary Safeway during construction, but it’s not clear if that is true or how it would work. Anyway, everything is 20% from now until the 19th, so I bought somewhat more than expected. There isn’t much selection, since the sale has been going for a week already. Still lots of perishables left (fruits, veggies, milk, cheese), plenty of soup, spaghetti sauce (but no spaghetti), toiletries. That Safeway has always been a crapshoot, but their produce was particularly fresh today, so…woohoo! Not my favorite grocery, but they will be missed during construction.