Category Archives: Latino

Summer Wheaton Restaurant Update: Aiiiiiii!

Mrs. Me and I have not been eatin’ much in Wheaton this summer due to travel, family stuff, yada yada yada.  Will try to rectify that come autumn.

All the new restaurants in Wheaton are Latino.  Surprise!*

* not a surprise

El Taco Loco has been open for a month or so, in the University Avenue strip mall next to El Pollo Rico.  We should call it El Strip Mall?  We ate there recently, review coming soon.

We have still not been to El Catrachito, in the old Irene’s III  microdiner space on University, despite its getting great reviews, but we hope to go soon.

In the old Irene’s (no numerals attached) space on Georgia, a new Latino/”Tex-Mex” restaurant called El Fogon has been open for about two months now.  I am skeptical about the Tex-Mex self-designation, since most places around here don’t really do it right, they just use it as a marketing ploy for people who don’t know better.  But maybe the food is good anyway?  Will check it out at some point.  We used to like Irene’s back in the day, despite the constant too-loud music.

Finally a little culinary variety: Tyler Cowen loves Thai Taste (11315 Fern, behind Hung Phat), his micro-review here (and my original review here). I love it when TC eats in Wheaton, because Wheaton, and also because it helps me calibrate my own restaurant-review palate.  For example, he mentions the mussamun beef as a “very very good” dish, which it is — and yet it isn’t as good as the spectacular version Nava Thai too infrequently trots out as a special.  He’s right about maximizing the condiments at Thai Taste, and I would add for all dishes, not just the soups.  Overall I still think Ruan is at the top of the Wheaton Thai heap at the moment, but Thai Taste is certainly also recommended.  Nava has been uneven lately, but if they have the mussamun available, it is a must-order.

And lastly, a new cheesesteak chainy place (Mike’s?)  is on the way to replace the Quizno’s in the Westfield Wheaton strip that also houses the Starbucks.  I’ve been off Quizno’s ever since their Vegas airport location gave me the worst food poisoning ever, so this is a welcome change (since I also like cheesesteaks). I’d still rather give my sandwich business to Marchone’s, but it’s nice to have options.

Feliz Augusto!

Recent Wheaton Food Stuff

Lazy sunny Saturday, lazy headline.  Lazy post too, probably.

Taste of Wheaton is tomorrow.  Or, tomorrow!  (?)  (punctuation!!) Hard to decide how excited to get about the Taste at this point.  I am interested to see how the cooking demos go, including one (at noon) by  Max Prasertmate of the new-to-Wheaton and very good Thai Taste by Kob.  Otherwise, as suspected, participants are the usual suspects (plus Thai Taste!) (thanks to BEI for posting this link in comment to previous post).

Ate at The Chicken Place (2418 University) recently for the first time in years. Their food was about as remembered: pretty good overall, nothing special, but probably underrated considering nobody ever talks about them.  They do a very good charbroiled chicken, and Mrs. Me digs their plantains.  Lomo saltado is only okay, not saucy enough, but the components are fine.  I made the mistake of looking at their Yelp file, which has several recent very negative comments that don’t really hold up.  In particular, I found the Chicken Place service to be super friendly, just as it was years ago, from the owner (?) to all the servers.  They even called me back to tell me it would be 15 minutes longer than originally predicted for the chicken to be ready.  How many restaurants bother to do that?   So we like the Chicken Place.

A new Latino restaurant, called El Catrachito, has opened in the former Gloria’s/Irene’s III/etc. space just a few storefronts down University from Chicken Place.  I can’t find a website for them, but I did find that they had a “food violation” reported but then passed inspection just this week.* Is it better to be investigated and found to be fully sanitary and compliant, or is it better not to have any complaints in the first place?  Anyway,  there were lots of people eating at El Catrachito the other night, so obviously someone likes it.  Will try to go at some point.  I’m weary of every new restaurant being Salvadoran around here.  Bring me all your vindaloos and biryanis!!

* Who knew WUSA posted this stuff??

Taco Loco, or whatever, next door to El Pollo Rico, still isn’t open (is it?) despite being “coming soon” for like a year now.  Honestly I can’t be bothered to investigate further.  Someday I’ll be over there again to peer in the windows.  Maybe they gave up?  Or maybe it’s really open and I am just out to lunch, or “out to lunch” again.

Tonight we are going to friends’ house where they will grill pork chops in apple sauce in honor of Ann B. Davis, a fitting tribute in which we are excited to participate.  Naturally, we are bringing limes.

Take Me To The Rivers

Tacos de Carne @ Rios

Tacos de Carne @ Rios

As if Wheaton needed another Salvadoran joint.  But Rios Taqueria y Pupuseria (2302 Price Ave., but really on Fern), open less than two weeks now in the former  Suporn Thai strip mall space, turns out to be a hidden gem.  Imagine if they raise their game as they go along, like many restaurants do?

You can tell a lot about a Salvadoran restaurant by the pupusas, and Rios makes a good one: relatively light and fluffy with a minimum of grease (you’ll never completely eliminate grease from a flavorful pupusa), good masa flavor, and a perfect dough-to-filling ratio.  Overall well above average, and may challenge Intipuqueno for best in Wheaton. $1.75 apiece, standard for pupusas around here. Also standard, Rios serves pupusas with curtido, a (yellower-than-usual — turmeric?) vinegared cabbage slaw, and a thin, not-spicy tomato salsa; both are fine.

The real value, though, is in the tacos.  Two tacos with charred meat (the carne is excellent; they also offer chicken and beef tongue), onion, tomato, lettuce, cilantro, and a sprinkling of cheese, all in good balance, double-wrapped in soft, warm corn tortillas…for $2.50.  That’s $2.50 total, not per taco. That would be a decent deal even if the tacos were only okay, but they’re really good!  They come with a little cup of sneaky-hot green salsa on the side. Fresh ingredients, well-cooked meat, high quality tortillas.  Love it.

The rest of the menu has the usual Salvadoran specialities, with only an occasional nod to Mexican cuisine.  Lots of grilled steaks, seafood, fajitas, all in the $8 to $15 range. The tacos may be the craziest value, but I suspect there’s good value elsewhere on the menu too. I look forward to trying more.

There isn’t much decor, though the salmon/red paint is nice enough, and the tables are swathed in red fabric and topped with cute flower arrangements.  Might be a cozy space, if it were full, but so far I’ve only seen it empty and that’s decidedly un-cozy.  Looks like they may offer a buffet sometimes.  Staff seems friendly.

All in all, Rios is a promising restaurant, and if the other food is as good as the tacos and pupusas, they should show up on every Best Cheap Eats list in the area later this year.  Assuming they can stay in business long enough.

Asi Es Mi Disco Halloween

Asi Es MI Disco Dia de los Muertos

Asi Es MI Disco Dia de los Muertos

When most people think of Wheaton restaurants, they think of Thai (for quality) and Salvadoran (for volume).  I think.  And fair enough.  But less well known are Wheaton’s Peruvian places — at least five (not even including the chicken-only places like El Pollo Rico), I have eaten at four, and would recommend three.  In short, a good selection.  We took friends last week to arguably the best of them, as well as the newest, Asi Es Mi Tierra (2559 Ennals, in  the strip near Little Caesar’s).  I’d been before, not long after it opened in spring 2011, and liked it a lot. And I’m not the only one — for example, the Washingtonian raved about the Asi Es seafood.

So naturally we all mostly skipped the seafood, aside from one (excellent) ceviche (I like the pucker-inducing marinated onions even more than the fish) and another fried fish dish left mostly uneaten for unexplained reasons.  I tried to order a beef stew but our server wouldn’t let me — unclear if they were out of it, or if it would have taken too long, or if she didn’t think I would like it.  Probably the middle thing, but who knows.  She directed me instead to a beef rib dish that turned out to be too chewy and lacking in beef (lots of bone), but otherwise rich and flavorful with plenty of rice and beans.  I also got the papas rellenas again, although this time it wasn’t quite as exciting — still excelente, but not muy.  The first bite of the apple is always best.

Others ordered the reliably good lomo saltado, and something chickeny…I didn’t take good (mental) notes because the ambience was too overwhelming.  Asi Es Mi Tierra is normally a minimally decorated unassuming strip mall cafe, but on this night (and I guess all weekend nights) it transforms into a gleeful party bistro, flouncing from retro to modern and back with aplomb.  Within 15 minutes of arriving, we had seen — on the big screen above the main entrance — the original music videos for Nazareth “Love Hurts,” the Village People “YMCA,” and Psy “Gangnam Style”…sublime.  And as if that weren’t enough, they soon started in with the karaoke, mostly in Spanish, and the host was surprisingly good — and then a guy from one of the other tables got up to sing, and he was practically operatic.   Nobody from our party sang, not with that kind of competition.  Okay, we did dance to YMCA, and I said “opa gangnam style” under my breath a few times. But we did enjoy it all, mostly, although it was awfully loud and conversation-inhibiting.

And as if THAT weren’t enough, the restaurant was all decorated for Halloween (btw, happy Halloween, the candy bowl is waiting for the marauding children), with flying Death and Dia de los Muertos paraphernalia all over the walls and ceiling.  AND there were disco lights.  Disco Dia de los Muertos!!  Or to put it in DC terms, Cool “Disco” Dia!!

A unique experience.  We had two eight-year-old boys in our party, and they tried  some chicha morada (a Peruvian sweet corn beverage, bright purple and a decidedly acquired taste) in lieu of soft drinks.  One took a sip and refused to so much as look at the glass again, much less drink more; the other (who had had chicha morada before) said “this drink is both horrible and delicious at the same time.”  That sums up the whole night — not the horrible part, it wasn’t horrible at all, just dichotomy and eras/cultures colliding.  Disco papas.  How lomo can you go?

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.


Del Campo’s Burn Book

Their menu, that is — pretty much everything at Del Campo (777 I (Eye) Street, Chinatown) is burnt or smoked, from the meats to the bar snacks to the desserts. Even the sliced lemon garnishing various drinks has been blackened.  They would probably smoke you, if you asked nicely.

And it’s all good, if you like that kind of thing, which Mrs. Me and I do.  Cocktails are tasty, but it’s the smoked-chili-powder-peanuts that are most addictive, compelling you to keep the drinks coming.  If you order the right amount and combination of meats, they come out sizzling on a huge wooden board, a great presentation we saw all around us; we somehow managed to order an array that called for a metal grill pan instead of the wood.  Next time.  Still, the asado assortment was delicious, led by a tender lamb shank whose bone we were practically sucking by the end.  We also liked the “teres major” steak and sausages.  Empanadas were above average but not as good as the best we had in Argentina a few years ago.  Still, by DC standards they are excellent, though not any better than the best of Panas.

Friendly service, our server masterfully put up with our slightly obnoxious challenging enthusiastic party, and the bartenders were smooooth.  Nice decor.   A little pricey for what you get, maybe.  Overall a good experience, we would go back, arriving early enough to hang at the bar pre-dinner to chow on chili peanuts and burnt lemon drinks, and we would work with our server to ensure giant sizzling wood block asado presentation.  Also might get the Peruvian chicken, that’s supposed to be excellent. Many options in the burn book…

Samantha’s Restaurant

The Samantha’s on the outskirts of Takoma Park at 631 East University, near Piney Branch (as opposed to the newer one right in downtown Wheaton on the corner of Georgia and University) has been a local food critic darling for many years, though it gets less attention lately.  We ate there years ago and liked but didn’t love the food, which they bill as “fine Mexican and Latin American cuisine,” all of which is true both collectively and separately.

We went back this weekend and I loved it. One of the specials, enchiladas de puerco, sucked me in, and I sucked it in: spicy chocolate-y mole, succulent pulled pork, the right amount of melted cheese, and a refried beans and rice combo that puts a lot of Tex-Mex places to shame.  One of the best enchilada platters I have ever had, including plenty in Texas. Delicious.

Surely my judgment was not at all colored by the pitcher of (pretty good) margaritas we all shared.  Others in our group tried the pollo saltado, which was deemed very good and disappeared entirely except for a mound of red onions, so maybe the ingredient balance was off a little bit.  Beef fajitas and Gallina India (“country chicken soup”) also passed the taste test, though bones and over-large vegetable chunks made the soup somewhat non-user-friendly.

Drawbacks: with most entrees in the $12 to $20 range it isn’t expensive, but isn’t as great a value as it might once have been — I’m pretty sure prices were lower five to ten years ago, though maybe I am misremembering.  It gets pretty loud, especially when you are seated next to a family with a six-month-old (I’m guessing) who screams nonstop for an hour and the parents don’t so much as walk the kid outside for a while.  Samantha’s, like most Latino restaurants, is kid-friendly, which can be both blessing and curse depending on your situation.  Even aside from that, the place was packed and quite loud.  The packed-ness also makes for difficult parking, as the lot is not nearly large enough to accomodate a full house.

Despite all that, I thought the food and service were excellent, well worth a visit.

Si, Asi Es Mi Tierra

My expectations for Wheaton’s newest Latino restaurant, Asi Es Mi Tierra (2559 Ennalls, next to Little Caesars) were moderate, and were exceeded based on one visit. AEMT is Peru-focused but has the standard Wheatonian pan-Latino array of dishes.  Their lomo saltado is an average mix of potatoes, beef, tomato and onion, spruced up by surprisingly tasty cilantro-flecked white rice.  Fried yucca and chicharron is also fine, a little dry, no better (but maybe no worse) than the solid version at The Chicken Place on University.

Papas rellenas, on the other hand, were delicioso: a big gloop of mashed potatos, filled with a savory mixture of egg, raisins, and beef in a red sauce, then fried and served with vinegary red onions and tomato, plus a more or less extraneous yellow mild dipping sauce. SO good.  I could eat this every day (but I won’t, because I would be dead within the year). I don’t even like raisins, and yet I ate it all; I will not admit to licking the foil wrapper it came in but you are welcome to speculate.

Decor is mostly earth tones plus bright green in two places: the ceiling, and the tablecloths (sometimes the tablecloths are red, not green; presumably the ceiling is always green). I would never have picked that color scheme, but it works, especially with the beige tile floor.  The space has seating for about twenty, maybe, plus four or five at a little bar that displays some well-chosen tequilas, rums, etc., plus six beers, mostly domestic but also Peru’s brews Cristal and Cusqueña (the latter allegedly brewed to “the ancient standard of Inca Excellence” — I will take their word for it!). Friendly service too, and bilingual enough for eatin’.  I was pleasantly surprised by the place, and will certainly go back to try more of the wide-ranging menu (plus more papas rellenas).

La Rumba

The Culinary Artist Formerly Known as El Boqueron (2311 Price, next to Limerick Pub) is now La Rumba, as of a couple of months ago, but the interior hasn’t changed and perhaps neither has the food. The menu still says “El Boqueron” anyway.  They advertise “Tex Mex and Latino” cuisine; I would stick with the Latino (seems to be kind of a Salvadoran-Peruvian hybrid) and skip the Tex Mex.  Cheese enchiladas are too cheesy* and red sauce is nowhere to be found. Rice’n’beans are okay, above-average for DC-area Tex Mex but below-average for realz, and not close to Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande (how can Bethesda have the least worst Tex Mex in greater DC? It seems very very wrong, but it’s the truth).

* Too cheesy is a rare complaint from me and almost impossible to achieve, but in this case the ratio of cheese-to-tortilla was at least 12:1, or worse. My arteries quivered just looking at the plate.

But!  Pupusas are fabulous, light and fluffy, good corn flavor, filling a perfect molten balance of (in my case) chorizo and cheese. A bit greasy, but hard to avoid grease when frying cheese-filled-dough. Delicious, every bit as good as reigning local pupusa leader Intipuqueño (2504 Ennalls).  Chips and salsa are also above average thanks to crisp (though I suspect not house-made) tortilla chips and flavorful salsa in the watery-with-chunks style, mostly tomato and onion but also bits of jalapeño and cilantro, mild with just a bit of fire but plenty of verve. Lomo saltado is also recommended; need to further explore the specialties menu section.

La Rumba has a bar — not sure I’d call it full, it isn’t that big, but they have the basics — and this could be a fun place to have a couple of pupusas and a couple beverages. Service can be a little slow but very friendly.  And prices are muy bajo, $1.75 for the pupusas and virtually all entrees are under $10. Some great value here.

Irene’s Pupusas 3 In The NYT

Wheaton’s own Irene’s 3 (11300 Georgia) hits the bigtime today with a positive mention in the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler column featuring “cheap, kid-friendly eats in Washington, D.C.” The four and seven-year olds both enjoyed Irene’s pupusas, plantains, and beverages.  After tasting the tamale, though, four-year-old Grady said: “it doesn’t sound so good.” Either the kid has synesthesia, or he needs some work on which sense is which. Either way, pretty funny, and great publicity for Irene’s 3 (not to be confused with the much smaller and less boisterous Irene’s Pupusas, around the corner on Georgia, also serving good pupusas) (there is no Irene’s 2). I find I3 too loud sometimes, but the food is authentic and good, and so is the service (knowing some Spanish is helpful but certainly not essential).

The peewee culinary crusaders also try Virginia Vietnamese and DC Ethiopian, Bolivian, and Guatemalan cuisine — and Ben’s Chili Bowl, a category unto itself.