A friend asked me if I’d ever been to a Salvadoran/Mexican restaurant called Tortilla Café, because she saw it featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network. Well, I hadn’t been so I decided to go check it out.
Tortilla Cafe is located in South East, DC on the corner right across from The Eastern Market. Finding street parking on a Saturday at lunch time took about 20 minutes, several trips around the block and a prayer to San Antonio.
As you can see from the sign, they have it written “Salvadorian” food. The business card has it written as “Salvadorean” food… Neither of these are my linguistic preference of “Salvadoran” – but since they have pupusas they can spell it any way they like.
To order, you stand in line, which often runs the length of the restaurant, from door to counter – but the line does move quickly. The decor was minimal and lacked the usual murals you expect to see at Salvadoran restaurants and there wasn’t any music or a public bathroom either. For those reasons it feels a little unfriendly to families with small children. (A bathroom can be had across the street at Eastern Market.)
There are tables outside on the patio but these weren’t set up since it’s still chilly – the only seating was indoors which is cramped. If you want a seat you need to be quick and somewhat assertive. Carlos instructed the boys to sit down at a table to “reserve it” literally the very moment the previous people stood and cleared their plates. (As a result, two muchachas in line to order in front of us turned around and gave us a look of annoyance.)
I had planned for each of us to order something different so we could try a wider variety of the menu, but the boys were not feeling adventurous. My older son wanted pupusas like me, and my younger son said he wanted a hamburger – which I refused him. Every time we go to a Salvadoran or Mexican restaurant he looks for the hamburger. I ordered a pupusa for him.
Carlos got a steak burrito and we ordered two bottled Inca Kolas to share, forgetting that they had horchata. The platters, which were affordably priced, came with a choice of 2 sides. Feeling the pressure of the waiting line of hungry people behind me, I ordered sides of yucca and salad, which made it more of a balanced meal, but I wish I had ordered something other than salad such as beans or platanos. The cashier was friendly, patient and bilingual.
Tortilla Café accepts credit and debit cards – which is nice since some of these little places seem to take cash only. We were given a receipt with a number and sat down to wait. While we waited, we watched others receive their food. All of the dishes, served on styrofoam plates, looked fresh and tasty – the chicken Taco Salad looked especially good.
We waited between 5 and 10 minutes, not long at all, and our number was called. Carlos went to the counter and brought our food back.
The pupusas came with curtido and salsa on the side, in addition to the 2 sides chosen. I ordered revueltas for myself and the boys – again I should have ordered a variety but didn’t think to do so at the time. The boys ate their lunch without complaint. The salad was super fresh, the yucca crispy and delicious, and the curtido perfectly flavored, but the pupusa itself didn’t have enough cheese for my liking. I would have liked to have tried some of the other varieties such as: queso/cheese, bean & cheese, or lump crab & cheese, (yes crab!) – They also have the more difficult to find “pupusas de loroco” for those that like them.
Carlos gave me a bite of his burrito and it was delicious. He liked it and said it was very filling.
Tortilla Café is worth going to if you come prepared and knowing what to expect. We will go back to try some of the other items, and hopefully when it’s warmer outside so we can sit on the patio.
For directions, hours of operation, menu and more, visit TortillaCafe.com.
Disclosure: I was not paid or otherwise invited to review this restaurant. All opinions are my own.