For my traditional end-of-the-month restaurant review for the month of June, I chose to ride to Tortilla Cafe, located at 210 7th Street in southeast D.C. (MAP), in one of D.C.’s hotspots for tourism, the Historic Eastern Market on Capitol Hill. A self-described Mexican and Salvadoran grill, Tortilla Cafe is small in size but big on flavor, and well worth a visit.
Tortilla Cafe and is managed by Catalina Canales, who seems to know exactly what she’s doing. Whether she’s in the kitchen in the back creating her signature tamales and papusas that are so good they have developed a cult following, or out front greeting and interacting with the customers with a smile that sets the tone for the place, Catalina remains as authentic as the cuisine.
The distinctive Mexican-Salvadoran offerings on the menu begin with famously tasty tamales, offer with a choice of seasoned pork, chicken, or sweet corn filling, and made with a traditional masa and the perfect blend of spices. The papusas, empanadas and burritos are equally great choices as well, as are the Salvadoran chicken and Cuban sandwiches. Other favorites on the menu include Salvadoran beef soup, carne asada, Yucca y Chicharrones. Lighter seafood options such as talapia tacos, shrimp fajitas, or a salmon Caesar salad are also available. The availability of so many delicious choices makes the decision of what to order an even more difficult one.
The attention to detail in the finishing touches at Tortilla Cafe complete the experience. Make sure to place your order as a platter to add sides dishes that include refried or black beans, Salvadoran rice, yucca, and plantains. And the fresh housemade pico de gallo, salsa, and guacamole at Tortilla Cafe taste as though they are more than mere condiments. Finally, to enhance your dining experience even more, I recommend that you round out your meal by trying one of the non-alcoholic traditional drink offerings, such as Horchata, Maracuya and Maranon.
Almost as phenomenal as the food is the value. The affordable pricing at Tortilla Cafe would be an amazing value anywhere, but it’s even more amazing for D.C. There is frequently a line at Tortilla Cafe, but it moves along and the food arrives quickly. And the inside seating is sparse, with the available seats often fill up during their busier times. But the additional outdoor seating where I chose to enjoy my lunch offers the added benefit of being able to people watch as locals and tourists alike come and go from Eastern Market.