Sunday, September 20, 2009

Early DC Impressions - We Prefer La Preferida

Well, as I said in my last post almost two weeks ago (!), Significant Eater and I have been getting set up in a nice little apartment in downtown DC - on N Street, and she started her new job (loves it, btw) just last Monday. But what a two weeks it was. Three (or was it four?) round-trips by car, numerous trips to Target, Ikea, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Calvert Woodley for booze - where some of the pricing makes no sense to me, when I have the luxury here in NYC of shopping at Astor Place and Wherehouse Liquors. Think $23 for Rittenhouse BIB, and some of you know what I mean. But, at least they stock it.

There's even a Harris Teeter, a Southern-based grocery chain, which my buddy turned me onto as one of the key supermarkets to shop at...with parking. They put out those fancy sample trays (with domes!) all around the store, too - but you don't eat out of those, do you? Just think of how many kids reached in to grab a slice of apple after wiping their runny noses with their hands, and I bet you'll stop. Actually, I think they should call them H1N1 domes.

In between all the cleaning, shopping and stocking however, a boy's gotta eat. Oh, SE and I made the obligatory stop at Ben's Chili Bowl, where the half-smoke is good, and the picture of Obama on the wall makes the food taste better than it really is...I wonder, did Michelle make him sleep on the couch after his chili dog?

I digress, so back to food. One of my oldest and closest friends now also lives in DC (and he just started a new job there too - what is this world coming to, with people getting jobs?), so I picked up Miami Danny and dragged him to a couple of places I had spotted on my various shopping excursions around town. And what's the first thing a couple of Jewish kids from Long Island think about when they're thinking about food? Yeah, that's right, ribs. I had spied this joint, located in the 3900 block of 14th St. NW, and just had to give it a try.

Well, wouldn't you? And boy, did it suck. You'd think with that pile of wood stacked up so nicely in the front window, there might be a chance that this would be a place to return to again and again. You'd be wrong. Perhaps the inside should have been a clue - it had more bulletproof glass than a bank in the 70s, and the ribs were delivered (after paying) via a turntable type device which made sure there was no human contact between the "pitmaster" and the customer. I'm pretty sure that the only smoke the ribs saw was the liquid smoke in the over-applied barbecue sauce. And the wings, which if done right can be ethereal, were dry and, I dunno, woody?

That big mitt holding the wings might've tasted better than the wings themselves, but Danny refused to sacrifice it, so off we went to stop number 2, which was a couple of blocks south on that same stretch of 14th St.

Yes, Pepe's Elotes Asados, where just to get the taste of the ribs and chicken out of our systems, we each got a nice ear of roasted corn, along with a tamale...after Danny charmed Ms. Pepe with his excellent Spanglish. The corn didn't taste like a lot of farmer's market corn these days, overly sweet but lacking real corn flavor - instead, it was slightly chewy (not necessarily a bad thing), and with it's coating of mayo, dusting of cheese and sprinkle of lime and chile powder, hit just the right note.

Corn is filling, so we decided to not even taste the tamale, though it looked good. Instead, it was passed along to a "street-person," who declared it "damn good." And off we went to stop numero tres. See, I can speak Spanish too - just not that much.

Now, this was a place I had spotted on a drive back from College Park, MD - the home not only of the University of Maryland Terps, but of Ikea as well. Located in a parking lot at the intersection of New Hampshire and E-W Highway, or Routes 410 and 650 in Takoma Park, it's easy to miss, but keep your eyes open and there she is...

Yes, La Preferida, womanned by two lovely ladies from El Salvador, was no doubt the find of the day. Since pupusas originally hailed from El Salvador, we ordered two pupusas revueltas, stuffed with pork, cheese and refried beans, along with two tacos de lengua, or tongue tacos. So we come full circle, as these two Jewish kids from Long Island are tongue lovers from way back - though I think my mom used to cook her calve's tongue in the de-flavorizer, and certainly didn't serve it on a taco, she started a life-long love of mine for one of the great organ meats.

And we watched as one of the ladies took a handful of masa and shaped and stuffed the pupusas delicately and with purpose. Onto the griddle to cook, Danny and I waited patiently for this not-so-fast food. It was worth the wait, as we drove away to find a shady spot (on Elm Street, no less) where we could enjoy the food. The pupusas were great, a little greasy, a little crispy around the edges, and meltingly tender. Like a great pizza, the cheese, pork and dough come together in each bite, even going so far as to burn the roof of my mouth.

And the tacos. Oooh, the tacos. Bursting with perfectly stewed tongue, topped with freshly chopped tomatoes, avocado slices, shredded queso fresco and served with a piece of lime and a bit of a green chili salsa hot enough to melt the floorboards of my Camry, these were better than any tacos I've had on the east coast. Though I don't think tacos are native to El Sal, these ladies sure know how to cook 'em. And I know I'll be stopping at this place as often as I can on my trips into and out of the district. Take a gander at these:


  1. Great post-thanks for getting all my chins into that photo. BTW, had tongue tacos yesterday at Super Taco (formerly Pepitos) in Adams Morgan just to make the comparison again-they were good, but La Preferida's were definitely better-juicy as hell and maybe even stewed longer? Less tongue-y taste, perhaps, but texture and flavor, overall, just deeper and more homey, maybe? Although the menudo at Super Taco was outstanding-helped to make me feel better from my low-level cold. Which I'm assuming I got from one of those HT 'germ globes'. I apologize for not taking your advice sooner. Never again, my friend.

  2. Ok I will eat most places and have been to my share of "questionable" eateries( I am being kind) but I can safely say I have developed limits as I get older. Restaurant with bars?? First indication I dont care how good the food is the chances of you being shot are probably greater than the food killing you. But after seeing that picture of the food maybe I am wrong. And Tongue????? I dont think so. I admire your open mindedness when it comes to trying eateries. Happy Travails but not sure I would continue your good fortune on some of these eateries. Did u get paid to try these places??