I had a friend visiting me from out of town, and needed somewhere quick, cheap, and delicious to meet her for lunch. My roommate recommended Tortilla Cafe down by Eastern Market, and boy, am I glad she made that suggestion.
Tortilla Cafe offers authentic El Salvadorian and Mexican fare that you can tell is made with love. The cafe is a family operation, owned by Jose Canales and managed by his daughter, Catalina, who can be found working the register most days. Mr. Canales also owns Canales Deli, a meat purveyor inside Eastern Market.
My friend and I split a pupusa platter with plantains and black beans ($5.95) and a sweet corn tamale ($2.25). Service was friendly and warm, and our food was brought out quickly, piping hot. Pupusas are a popular El Salvadorian snack: thick corn tortillas filled with cheese and meats that are fried to perfection. Tortilla Cafe’s version is light and greaseless, with melted cheese and flavorful pork oozing out of each bite.
The side dishes were excellent as well. The pupusa platter comes with your choice of 2 sides (beans, rice, fries, fried yucca, plantains). We chose the plantains and black beans. I’m a sucker for plantains and I can wholeheartedly say the ones at Tortilla Cafe were first-rate. Crisped outer edges, soft in the middle, with that irresistible sweet and savory balance. The platter also comes with a complementary serving of curtido, a pickled cabbage slaw with peppery salsa drizzled on top. The dish paired nicely with the pupusas, adding a jolt of heat and tanginess.
The sweet corn tamale was reminiscent of summer. It tasted like biting into a freshly steamed ear of white corn. The maize had a firm bite–one of the signs of a solid tamale. Lesser versions can be mushy or grainy.
Perhaps the most astonishing part of the meal was the price–less than $10 for a filling and fantastic meal. Tortilla Cafe more than delivered on the quick, cheap, and delicious fronts.
More people (other than me) are starting to take notice of this hidden gem’s low prices and high-quality food. Tortilla Cafe was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and the restaurant proudly displays a signed Guy Fieri poster on its wall. The episode hasn’t aired yet, so be sure to head down to Tortilla Cafe–before the legions of Triple D and Food Network fans do!
210 7th St. SE
Washington, DC 20003