Don Juan Restaurant
1660 Lamont St NW
Washington, DC 20010
Mount Pleasant Street, specifically between Irving and Park, is a hub for Salvadorean cuisine in the District. Salvadorean restaurants line this vibrant commercial corridor, offering a wide array of Salvadorean and Mexican dishes. I was looking for one specific dish...the pupusa.
Pupusas are a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a variety of fillings. Fillings range from a soft cheese called quesillo (similar in texture to Queso Oaxaca, and to be frank, Mozzarella), black beans, ground beef, ground pork, chicharron, and vegetables. Pupusas are also served with a side of lightly pickled cabbage called curtido, which is like a tangy cole slaw, and a soupy tomato-based salsa. These dishes have been feted in the DC food press for some time, but I have had a hard time willing myself to go out and find out where to get the best ones. After doing a little research, I decided to head up to Mount Pleasant Street, which has a high concentration of Salvadorean restaurants.
Don Juan Restaurant is located in a building on the corner of Mount Pleasant and Lamont, across the street from a small public green with benches. I chose to go to the carryout store specifically because I only wanted to order pupusas. Inside the carryout are several tables, a long counter, a large backlit menu, and the kitchen, which appears to be where they cook the food for the sit down restaurant.
After ordering my pupusas, I sat down and looked up to see ESPN Deportes broadcasting a Spanish La Liga soccer game. As I settled in, I saw a trickle of men enter, ordering pupusas, and then sitting down in order to watch the game. As Real Madrid started to make a push towards the goal, everyone's voices became increasingly more animated and excited, chattering wildly as shots began to rain towards the overwhelmed Sevilla goalkeeper. It felt like I was in a comfortable and unpretentious neighborhood sports bar where you can sit back, order a drink and some finger foods, and chat with the people next to you (if you're fluent in Spanish, which unfortunately, I am not). Let us say the real life Don Juan would probably steer clear of this place...it was definitely a sausage fest, albeit an extremely convivial and friendly one.
I waited for some time...about 10 minutes, I would say, for my pupusas...but they were worth the wait. I sliced into my first one, and a stream of gooey, runny cheese immediately oozed out. After biting into it, the soft cheese gushed in my mouth, coating my palate with the soft, velvety texture not wholly unlike good burrata. Better, though, was the explosion of corn in my mouth...a pronounced melange of sweetness and nuttiness, accented by the melted cheese. Then, in order to cleanse the palate, I scooped up some curtido with salsa, which lent a tangy spiciness to the pupusas while also conveying a refreshingly tingling spine of acidity as well. The black bean pupusa was just as good, but I think I personally preferred the plain cheese. Something about the comforting simplicity of the dish struck a chord.
This is a good place to get pupusas, and the ambiance isn't so bad that you would feel like you would want to carry out your order. It's a downright friendly place. It also has free Wi-Fi (but apparently no public restrooms).