Located just a few blocks from the bustling shopping centers in Columbia Heights, Gloria’s Pupuseria would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the whimsical pink and white decor.
From the moment that my out-of-town friend and I stepped in, it was clear we had left behind a city known for its trendy eateries and entered a hub of Latin American culture, frequented more often by locals than by tourists.
Though we were obviously first-timers — and the only diners not speaking Spanish — at the cash-only joint, we still enjoyed the pop music blasting from a jukebox mounted on one of the 20-seat restaurant’s pink walls. It seemed a little out of place, however, among the old-timey restaurant’s low ceilings, worn and checkered tablecloths, and vintage tourism posters of El Salvador’s landscape.
What Gloria’s lacks in frills, it makes up for in food. I first tried the corn tamales for $2 from the menu of Mexican and Salvadoran cuisine. They tasted like slices of cornbread fried to perfection — crispy on the outside and crumbly on the inside, without being too dry. They weren’t too oily either, though they were a little sweeter than I expected.
Though I considered playing it safe with a grilled chicken dish I knew I’d like or a marinated steak dish called carne asada, both for about $11, I ultimately decided to make up for missing breakfast with the carne deshilada, shredded beef mixed with scrambled eggs, peppers and onions. For $11.50 the portion was generous, served with a hearty side of beans and buttery rice. But the eggs were too salty and masked the flavor of the meat, which tasted best after I doused it with peppery hot sauce.
I ended up picking more off of my friend’s plate of beef and chicken tacos, served on thick tortillas for $3 each. The meat was tangy and tender, and wasn’t overpowered by the fresh salsa and creamy avocado that accompanied it.
If I could redo my experience at Gloria’s, I would skip the entrees and make a meal out of the $2 pupusas — a traditional Salvadorian dish that’s similar to a quesadilla. Though my friend and I were stuffed by the time the fresh corn tortilla pockets arrived, we devoured them anyway. The pupusas – stuffed with gooey cheese and flavorful shredded pork – were the perfect balance of doughy, crispy and greasy. They also paired nicely with a side of crunchy cabbage slaw called curtido.
The waitress informed me that Gloria’s didn’t serve any dessert, so I instead topped my meal off with a $2 glass of iced horchata, a sugary, milky concoction made from rice and water with hints of cinnamon and vanilla.
A hole-in-the-wall like Gloria’s would fare well among GW students looking to fill their stomachs without emptying their wallets — and I’m sure I’ll be craving one of their pupusas the next time I spend a night out or stay up studying. For now, I know that when I find myself in Columbia Heights with an empty stomach and a few dollars, I can skip the Chipotle down the block for an authentic meal with more bang for my buck.