“When I arrived at the D.C. metro spot 11 years in the past, I barely had any Puerto Rican purchasers,” states Cindy Vargas, a hairstylist from Ponce, Puerto Rico, who owns Salon Laurel in Alexandria. “As a Puerto Rican, I was observed as exotic. Now, most of my shoppers are Puerto Rican, and they all talk to me in which I really should consume Puerto Rican food stuff.”
According to the Heart for Puerto Rican Scientific tests at Hunter College, the Puerto Rican population in the D.C. metropolitan region has greater by 42 p.c given that 2010. Most notably, there has been a 121 percent maximize in D.C. good around the earlier 10 years. With a much more robust Puerto Rican population comes a heightened demand from customers for a taste of house.
Puerto Rican delicacies demonstrates the combine of cultures on the Caribbean island: European (primarily Spanish), African, and Taino Indian. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory because 1898, which has also influenced the meals. The most familiar dishes incorporate lechon asado (roasted pork), arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas), mofongo (fried green plantain mashed with chicarrón and garlic, and frituras (fried treats manufactured with a wide variety of batters and fillings).
Term-of-mouth communication has often been an integral portion of spreading the term about Latin food. Angelique Sina, the president of the D.C.-primarily based nonprofit Mates of Puerto Rico, claims donors and partners often talk to the place they can locate Puerto Rican foods.
Chef Joancarlo Parkhurst opened La Famosa in September. The Puerto Rican cafe in Navy Garden has been well been given. Parkhurst, elevated in the two Puerto Rico and New York City, grew up around food—his grandparents owned a Puerto Rican pineapple juice business with the same identify as his new restaurant.
“Naming the restaurant La Famosa was a homage to them,” Parkhurst suggests. “I am entirely blown absent by the reaction that we’ve gained from the Puerto Rican community, not only in the D.C. space, but we’ve experienced customers come from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”
La Famosa, a lively house with pink and blue decorations with tropical facts, is a slice of Puerto Rico in the District. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The breakfast highlights pastries this sort of as quesitos, a puffed pastry loaded with cream cheese, and pastelillos de guayaba, a puffed pastry filled with guava paste. Lunch spotlights sandwiches these kinds of as the tripleta, even though evening meal showcases the “platos fuertes,” or heavier dishes, like mofongo or a complete fried red snapper.
“I wanted to product La Famosa soon after some of my most loved bakeries in the San Juan metro region, these as Kasalta, Cidrines Bakery, and Casa España,” Parkhurst claims. “They provide additional than just pastries, but also entirely composed lunch and dinners, and of course wine and spirits.”
The opening of La Famosa has been a welcome address to numerous Puerto Ricans dwelling in D.C. They mourned the loss of Mio, a Puerto Rican cafe around Thomas Circle that shut at the conclude of 2015.
“When I moved to the D.C. location, just one of the items on my to-do checklist was to find a Puerto Rican cafe,” claims Solmarie Febus, a Puerto Rican engineer performing in D.C. who authors the site “Cooking en Español.” “A close friend advised me about Mio Cafe, which speedily turned the location to go whenever I skipped property. The meals, the audio, and the ambiance designed me ignore I was away from la Isla.”
Manuel Iguina opened Mio, a Latin restaurant with exclusive emphasis on Puerto Rican food stuff, in 2006. Puerto Rican lawyers, lobbyists, and policymakers designed it their frequent spot. Iguina at times hosted Puerto Rican celeb chefs such as Giovanna Huyke and Wilo Benet as visitor government chefs. Right after a 10-calendar year operate, Iguina was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy defense and shut immediately after he claims his landlord doubled his rent.
“When we begun Mio, we developed a pan-Latino menu, but people today stored gravitating in the direction of the Puerto Rican dishes, so we resolved to target on that,” Iguina states. “We started out roasting whole pigs on lechón Friday and tableside mofongo carts. We’re really very pleased of Mio. We were being in a position to introduce so many persons to Puerto Rican food items.”
Iguina subsequently opened Significant Road Cafe in Georgetown, which he states he shut forever because of to the pandemic. Though the brasserie served almost everything from pizza to clams casino, guests returned for Puerto Rican staples these kinds of as mofongo, roasted pork, and asopao (a loaded stew with rice, root greens, and meat or seafood). He welcomes the boost in Puerto Rican dining solutions domestically. “I appreciate viewing this youthful era of Puerto Rican cooks producing one thing modern and exceptional,” he says.
Because of to the pandemic, climbing rent expenditures, and difficulty getting the suitable allowing, youthful Puerto Rican chefs in the DMV have experienced to uncover modern strategies to carry Puerto Rican food to their communities. From pop-ups to meals vans to catering, Puerto Rican foodstuff goes beyond brick and mortar.
Mario Corona and Richard Torres perform for a massive cafe team in D.C. On the side they run a pop-up honoring their Puerto Rican roots. Both of those had been born and lifted in the center of Puerto Rico, a location recognized for its lechón asado. When they launched Lechonera DMV, they did not anticipate to sell out so rapidly. The pop-up will take spot when a thirty day period in Woodbridge, Virginia, and characteristics basic Puerto Rican dishes these types of as the roasted pork, arroz con gandules, and pasteles.
Each Corona and Torres believe the pandemic catalyzed their accomplishment. “This 12 months, individuals are craving a style of house,” suggests Torres. “Before, it was uncomplicated to hop on a aircraft and go back to Puerto Rico to satisfy the cravings for property-cooked meals. We convey individuals flavors of the homeland to the D.C. spot.”
They also found that it is not only Puerto Ricans craving the roasted lechón and other Puerto Rican delicacies these kinds of as Coquito, the creamy coconut- and rum-primarily based holiday getaway cocktail. “We have shoppers from all backgrounds—Filipinos, African People, Central Americans—and other individuals who buy from us. Fifty p.c of our Coquito sales come from non-Puerto Ricans.”
Most chefs issue out how the fascination in Puerto Rican food goes outside of men and women in the diaspora. “The American consumer, the just one with the much more ‘anglo palate’ is also in search of all those reliable food activities listed here in Washington, D.C.,” states Parkhurst. He’s viewed the demand for it grow at his restaurant.
“In my working experience, more and far more people today are going away from European delicacies and getting more curious about other foods,” says Ismael Mendez, proprietor of QuiQui Catering. The former IT technician decided to turn out to be a chef and labored at several D.C. dining places before launching his catering enterprise. He has also hosted a series of productive pop-ups at Mercy Me, Valor Brewpub, and Tiki on 18th. “People are hunting for comfort and ease foodstuff, the food items that is cooked by their mothers and grandmothers. That is the taste that we’re making an attempt to carry at QuiQui.”
A further caterer, Borinquen Lunch Box, has found good results parking its food stuff truck at Port City Brewing Company on weekends. The owners could not be attained for remark for this story.
Some chefs deftly weave aspects of Puerto Rican cooking into their menus, even if they are not major the kitchen area in a focused Puerto Rican restaurant. Chef Andres Zuluaga serves tamarind-glazed pork ribs and a salad dressing created of mojo isleño (a Puerto Rican condiment) at Blend 111 in Vienna.
“Growing up on Florida’s east coastline, I had a substantial Boricua neighborhood around me,” Zuluaga states. “I cherished the many sofritos and how we incorporate tropical fruits into not only desserts, but savory foodstuff as nicely. Involving spouse and children gatherings and parrandas throughout the holiday seasons, Puerto Rican cuisine was always a enormous element of my lifestyle. Now, individuals ordeals perform a role in the flavors I want to portray when producing new dishes.”
Puerto Rican modest enterprise house owners have also discovered means to sell food and drink from the island. Pedro Juan Rodríguez, who grew up in Puerto Rico, co-owns Grand Cata, a Latin-targeted wine and current market with places in Shaw and within La Cosecha in the vicinity of Union Sector. The store carries artisanal spices like sazón and adobo, espresso, chocolates, and rums, amid other products and solutions.
He says that he’s observed an elevated curiosity in Puerto Rican merchandise since they opened 5 yrs in the past. “The curiosity has not only developed with the diaspora, but with our East Coastline clientele who is familiar with or has traveled to Puerto Rico,” Rodríguez suggests.
The D.C. metro space also has a distillery specializing in Pitorro, a substantial-proof cousin to rum sometimes referred to as “Puerto Rican moonshine.” Puerto Rico Distillery, positioned in Frederick, Maryland, opened in March just as COVID-19 strike the region. Father-and daughter workforce Angel and Crystal E. Rivera individual and run the small business.
“Both my father and I had a enthusiasm for Pitorro and numerous other matters that aim on Puerto Rican lifestyle,” Crystal suggests. “Pitorro has only been available on the Island, and we wanted to carry that to the diaspora.”