One Hot Tamale, er, Pupusa!
[from January 2004 issue]

Sometimes word-of-mouth is the best advertisement. At least, that’s how it worked with a few pupusas. Imagine running into a native New Mexican in Naples, Italy, who exclaimed that the best pupusas in the world come from our very own El Tamarindo in Adams Morgan. Really, we asked? Not only did she give a thumbs up, she added that it was a "must" destination on her occasional DC trips. Just for the pupusas.

You may wonder, what is a pupusa? A popular Salvadoran snack, a pupusa resembles a pancake, but one made with corn meal and filled with a savory mixture that may include cheese, beans, pork or loroco (a plant part, apparently) or a combination of the above. One pupusa makes a tempting appetizer, but two or three with the typical side of pickled cabbage can become a light meal.

So a friend and I tried out the pupusa deal at El Tamarindo at a recent noontime, and we ate our way through four different selections: queso (cheese), chicharron (pork), revueltas (pork and cheese mixture), and frijol y queso (beans and cheese).

For my money, the cheese pupusa wins hands down, as some of the cheese seeps through the casing and cooks to a crusty finish, leaving enough within as a gooey, melty filling--rather like a tempting grilled cheese sandwich. Probably the beans and cheese, because of that luscious cheese filling, comes in second. While I can¹t swear to be a pupusa expert, I would have to agree with my New Mexican contact that the cooks at El Tamarindo make mighty fine pupusas that emerge from the skillet without loads of grease and with a delicate, almost pancake-like body that would do Bisquick proud.

Of course, pupusas are not the solo items on the menu, which just happens to be replete with both Mexican and Salvadoran (read, Central-American) offerings that range from nacho and chile con queso to sopa de mondongo (tripe soup), enchiladas, tamales, and chile rellenos to several items that probably show up on solidly Tex-Mex menus: Tex fajitas, bean burritos, Mexican pizza.

Thanks to recent publicity, the menu also stars--as a new item--the kitchen’s pollo al cilantro, a sauté of cubed chicken breast in a cilantro sauce that has hints of garlic and loads of flavor. The sides here are rice-studded with a smattering of veggies and black beans. You can order for a price a side of tortillas for wrapping up beans and chicken, and in retrospect, that’s not a bad idea.

El Tamarindo, 1785 Florida Ave., NW; tel., 328-3660. Hours: Sun.-Thu., 11am-2am; Fri. & Sat., 11am-5am. Entrées: $7.25-$23.95.


Sinful Cakes at Lovecafé

Casual El Tamarindo may offer desserts of sorts, but my friend and I opted for a treat at Lovecafé, about three blocks east on U Street. We stopped first at Cake Love, hoping to buy select cake slices there, but we were directed to its sister location across the street.

This is not a destination for anyone who has resolved in the new year to lose weight. Several shelves in the display case show off the baker¹s handiwork, a selection of confectionery decadence and sugary opulence. And don’t be put off by the price per slice of cake, which may be in the $6 range: The slice you receive is about the size of the Titanic, and you are encouraged to take leftovers home. My friend did with her carrot soufflé cake slice, when she learned that the outer frosting was studded with sugared almonds. Oh, my!

If you are discouraged by the idea of sugar and butter, you can still enjoy the comfy ambiance of Lovecafé by ordering something simpler and savory from its minimal selection of sandwiches, salads, and if you drop in for breakfast, bagels and French toast. Plus coffees and coffee drinks

Lovecafé, 1501 U St., NW; tel., 265-9800. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Sandwiches: $4.50-$7.50. target=_top>

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