While the DC area is loaded with Mexican taquerias and Salvadoran pupserias, Guatemalan restaurants are a bit harder to come by. La Bamba Restaurant in Silver Spring is your spot to try Guatemalan food, which is similar to the food of its Mexican and Salvadoran neighbors but with its own unique twists. You will find Mexican food on the menu here, but that’s for the Gringos. That said, I was the only Gringo in the restaurant when I went.
Guatemala does have its own style of tacos, which are rolled up, fried and crisy, but I opted for the pepian de pollo, a chicken stew, at the waitress’s recommendation. I tend to favor red meat over chicken and don’t generally love stews but the special Guatemalan sauce that the chicken was stewed in was extra flavorful and the green hot sauce that they brought me added the perfect kick.
For dessert, I had the rellenitos, a sort of fried plantain made into the shape of an empanada and stuffed with a sweet black bean filling. While it may seem strange to the North American palate to have black beans for dessert, it’s really no different than red beans in Asian cuisine.
La Bamba certainly isn’t fancy, but this no-frills, homey spot serves inexpensive, soulful and satisfying meals.
La Bamba is located at 8241 Georgia Ave, Silver Spring, MD
Sweetgreen is a fast casual salad restaurant chain that began in the DC area in 2007. It has various locations throughout DC and the suburbs, including in Foggy Bottom, Downtown, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, Crystal City, Ballston, College Park, Silver Spring, McLean, Tysons, Fairfax and Reston. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not often eat salads because I almost never feel full after eating them. The salads at Sweetgreen are no exception in this regard, but they are very tasty and innovative. I can totally see the appeal of this place for those who do like salads, so I am rating it based on that. I ordered a seasonal specialty called the Umami Grain Bowl, which was healthy and delicious (though I was of course still hungry after). There are numerous other inventive salad choices, such as the “Rad Thai,” which is a Thai-inspired salad with shrimp. For those counting calories, however, be warned that some of the salads are highly caloric- the winner in this regard is the “Earth Bowl,” which packs a whopping 775 calories (as a comparison, a Big Mac contains 563 calories). Of course, there’s a lot more to healthy eating than calories, and there is certainly far more nutrition in Sweetgreen’s food than in Mc Donalds’. Sweetgreen also has delicious house made fountain drinks and everything (aside from the reusable bowl) is compostable. Sweetgreen gets major points for offering nutritious, environmentally conscious food in a casual, bright atmosphere. It just isn’t a filling enough meal for me
Chicken in a coconut curry sauce with a Burmese samosa, rice and green tea.
Mandalay Restaurant & Cafe, located at 930 Bonifant Street in Silver Spring, is a great spot for tasty Burmese food. Burmese food, as one might expect, is kind of like a cross between Indian and Thai. Their lunch specials are pretty good value and include a choice of a spring roll or a Burmese samosa. The menu is almost overwhelmingly extensive (especially since few people have any familiarity with Burmese food) but I chose a chicken dish in a coconut curry sauce, which is one of their most popular dishes. The curry was flavorful- I ordered it medium so it was spicy, but not overwhelmingly so. I also got a samosa which was crispy and tasty. I had green tea with my meal, which tasted a bit oxidized. The ambiance is also nothing special. Despite these minor flaws, I highly recommend this place and it is worth the excursion to Silver Spring to try this fun, flavorful cuisine.