Dish of the Week: Qui Qui’s Pastelón

Media Credit: Nuria Diaz I Staff Photographer

Qui Qui delves into classic Puerto Rican cuisine like fried plantain bites called tostones, bringing comfort during difficult times for those away from home.

Located on 7th Street, Qui Qui’s salsa music and smell of fried plantain mixed with seasoned meat brought me straight home from the District all the way back to a traditional Puerto Rican atmosphere.

A 30-minute Metro ride from campus to Shaw, Qui Qui delves into classic Puerto Rican cuisine like fried plantain bites called tostones, bringing comfort during difficult times for those away from home. The restaurant draws inspiration from Chef Ismael Mendez, also known as “Qui Qui” by family members, who decided to create a new restaurant in 2018 that would honor his family roots and beloved traditions.

National symbols like the flor de maga, the island national flower, and el coqui, a frog species endemic to the island, as well as the Puerto Rican flag adorn the restaurant, fostering an environment of cultural appreciation for the island that I also call home. The wooden tables, colorful walls and worn smell bring a reminiscent feeling, similar to the ones found at my grandmother’s kitchen on the island.

Bottles of Don Q rum are placed at corners of each tiled table, but if you’re looking for a quick drink, you might be disappointed to find they are filled with water. The menu is in the form of a QR code stuck to the edge of the table with the number 21 on top of the code, a number associated with the jersey worn by the Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente.

The exceptional customer service creates a welcoming atmosphere with staff who constantly check in and bring animated conversation to the customers. Wooden elements like barrels and figures decorate the small, cozy interior, bringing a sense of comfort for those dining, since traditional furniture on the island is made out of wood.

The menu offers a diverse selection of famous Puerto Rican plates like Morcilla, a pig-based sausage, and Sorullitos, a fried, corn-based appetizer that can be dipped in mayo-ketchup, a sauce famous on the island.

I ordered the Pastelón ($20), a dish that my mom would make after long days at school, made from seasoned ground beef with sweet plantains and cheese. The dish arrived in a hot cooking skillet that quickly brought the smell of home to our table. The seasoned meat tasted just like my childhood favorite, with the adobo spicing the recipe to Puerto Rican standards and the plantains, though not quite as mouth watering as back home, mixing in a perfect blend of sweetness.

The dish is perfect after long rain- or snow-filled days when you need to warm yourself up. For fellow Puerto Ricans, finding traditional dishes in the District like these will lift your spirit by bringing back nostalgic memories.

Qui Qui’s other entrees include the traditional chuleta Kan Kan, a tomahawk pork chop, the bistec encebollado – flap steak seasoned with onions – and mofongo, a fried smashed plantain dish typically filled with either meat or fish. The menu also offers refreshing drinks like Malta India and India coco, earthy and bitter tasting sodas that younger children typically enjoy.

This is the perfect location to visit if you’re looking to support Puerto Rican businesses in the District. Qui Qui, along with other restaurants in D.C., are donating proceeds to humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico. After increased flooding and landslides on Sunday night, the island is currently without power and water utilities in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, which trashed the island’s power grid and caused the loss of homes.

Most towns in the south of the island are facing increased flooding since Sunday, with up to 30 inches of rainfall pouring down upon already ravaged neighborhoods. Around 1,000 residents across Puerto Rico, from more than 25 different municipalities, have had to be rescued since Sunday since they were unable to leave their homes due to the flooding submerging neighborhoods.

Organizations like Fundación Sin Límites, a nonprofit that looks to promote education and reduce poverty on the island, are looking for volunteers to donate supplies for Puerto Ricans. In a recent Instagram post, Fundación Sin Límites requested help in providing the necessary supplies like clothes, solar lanterns, first aid kits and water filters for the displaced families around the island.

As the crisis continues, Qui Qui is one of a few D.C. restaurants donating a portion of their proceeds to help the people of Puerto Rico during their time of need. Qui Qui is more than just a scrumptious restaurant – it represents a home away from home for students who are away from their families and provides a place to enjoy their culture with friends.

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