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Reservations Recommended

Some Like it Hot = Café Salsa

And why not? Sun or snow, the likes of 14th Street’s Café Salsa has a winning formula for spiced-up mealtimes and chilly cocktails. Plus, its vibrant colors — think mustards, pinks, oranges — speaks volumes about its casual Caribbean air and cool (as in fabulous) Latino/Caribbean fare. Management calls it “Nuevo Latino,” but read that as dishes with basically Caribbean and South American roots.

As a friendly start-up, a metal basket brimming with crisped dough triangles make perfect scoops for the olive tapenade dip, a green-golden dollop in a little ramekin. As for main courses, you’ll be in luck if the kitchen has heated up the soup of the day, the chicken in lime. It’s a specialty, so there’s no telling when it will appear, but it is certainly generous enough for an entire meal — especially if you start with the alcapurrías.

As management explains, the kitchen makes two versions of these Puerto Rican savories. The menu describes these as filled with a medley of seafood (shrimp, scallops, and calamari) but you may get the version filled with ground meat. This may be the more interesting of the two versions, and plus the soup, make a satisfying meal. Well, more than satisfying.

But the starters list is long, and includes some unusual twists on the standards: What about something called “nachos Cubanos,” a lively take on the more familiar Tex-Mex nacho offering. The Cubanos consist of crisped plantain chips topped with one of several mixtures, from the traditional “ropa vieja” (shredded flank steak cooked in a spicy sauce) to a vegetarian topping and all finished off with grated cheese, olives, beans, and guacamole.

If it’s midday, you may prefer something geared towards pick-up-and-eat dishes, and for burger lovers, you’ve got to try the “frita Cubana.” Sure, it’s just a burger dressed up with Miami spice (the restaurant notes this dish is popular in Miami) and its trimmings are what you would expect. But the chef kicks this up a notch with a secret salsa, which adds some hidden bite. Sided with crunchy fries, it’s one of the city’s better burgers, though you may end up with a crumbling hamburger bun. In that case, forget the bun and focus on the burger.

Dessert selections include the typical flans — maybe good, maybe forgettable — but you would be wise to stick with their tres leches, a thick wedge of sponge cake drenched in three different milks for a very sweet ending to your meal.

If you happen to live in the neighborhood, that means no driving, make Café Salsa your go-to drinks and dinner place. Not only can you splurge on some hearty entrées such as the Puerto Rican take on the Cuban ropa vieja (but here wrapped with sweet plantains) or the pan-seared pork chop with a pineapple glaze, but you can also partake of the bar’s extensive drink offerings — from daiquiris and sangrias to Cuban mojitos and something called a mango kiss martini, the game’s on.

Café Salsa | 1712 14th St., NW (202) 588-5286. Hours: Sun.-Wed. 11:30am-11pm.; Thu.-Sat. to 12 midnight. Entrée price range: $12.95-$14.95. www.cafesalsagrill.com.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.