3411 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20010
Neighborhood: Columbia Heights
Gloria's Pupuseria is a small storefront located on 14th Street, about a 5 minute walk from Columbia Heights. It is an inconspicuous place that is very easy to pass by, but because of my quest to find the best pupusas in the DMV, the name drew me in.
When you walk inside, it feels like you have stepped into someone's living room (just watch your step, the low ceiling was brushing against my head). The color palate is aquamarine and pink, giving the place a feminine vibe. A television in the corner was broadcasting a Spanish language telenovela, with an elderly women sitting in a corner watching it while going over her books. In the back, three women were preparing the food in a kitchen. The menu's selections, though Salvodorean, all seemed recognizably homey and comforting (stews, roasts, things of that nature).
I only had time to get takeout, so I can't give a complete report about the quality of the service, but the woman who appeared to own the restaurant was very friendly. Although she didn't have a great grasp of English, and ordering took some time, she was very patient. I waited a while as they were preparing my pupusas, but, I've come to expect that. At this point, I would be suspicious if an order of pupusas came out too quickly because they have to prepared a la minute in order to have optimal flavor and texture. So, if you get a pupusa under 5 minute, they probably have been sitting under a heating lamp somewhere, and you probably shouldn't patronize that store again.
The pupusas and the accompanying curtido (pickled cabbage and red salsa) were solid and correct. The pronounced corn flavor I expect from a good pupusa was there, and while I wished the cheese was a bit more melted, it didn't detract terribly from the experience. I also ordered a revuelta pupusa, which has ground beef in it, and, again, it was well made and tasty, especially when eaten with the tangy curtido. I think I have come to prefer plain cheese, probably because it is evocative of a good slice of pizza, but I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up to either a black bean or beef pupusa.
The final point I would like to make is that, while I was waiting for my dish, I noticed the proprietor running around the dining room, wiping down every table, even though they all appeared spotless. After they were as shimmering as her standards dictated, she took the time to start wiping down her menus so that they would be as immaculate as possible (I must have come in during a slow period). Gloria's is a small place, and I wouldn't expect haute cuisine, but the proprietor's zealous effort to keep her restaurant as clean and comfortable as possible demonstrates her passion, which was refreshing to witness, especially considering passion's complete absence in most restaurants at Gloria's price range. This is a good reminder why we should, on occasion, refrain from getting a burrito at Chipotle or a burger at 5 Guys, with all of their mechanical precision, and go out of our way to patronize an unassuming, independently owned restaurant. I find what they may lack in execution and technical skill, they oftentimes make up in passion. The experience I had at Gloria's, while brief, was one of those instances.