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Sergio's Place, Salvadoran in Wheaton

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I have been singing the praises of Matamoros a bit here. But a couple of weeks ago, I went there for lunch during their buffet. I partook and was sorely disappointed. Another meal was just OK. I also, again, felt the lackadaisialness of the service. So when I needed lunch again, I decided to try something else. Sergio's Place on Fern just south of University has been there for a while and I was never inspired to try it, but I went in jonesing for a pupusa. I have been back 3 times to dine in and twice for takeout.

There is nothing revolutionary at Sergio's place. They have the standard 2 pages of tex mex and 2 pages of Salvadoran menu that so many places do. But when you read the Salvadoran sides, you notice that they have a section of "gourmet" pupusas (chorizo & queso is quite yummy) in addition tot he standard. You also might notice that they mark all their pupusas with veggies and cheese as vegan which, since they are not using soy cheese, is mislabeling. But these pupusas are quite good indeed. They are far less oily and lighter than any I have had in the DC metro. The Gourmet versions, while 50% more expensive on average than the regular, are also at least 50% larger.

You start off with incredible chips and OK salsa. The beer is served cold. The other day I ordered a Regia and got a funny look from the waitress. It was $8 and I thought it must be a super premium beer. It turned out to be a quart of damn fine lager. And on a hot day when all I had on my agenda was a nap, it was perfect!

The best things so far have been the Salvadoran enchiladas. These are crispy masa cakes fried to a dark brown and topped with beans (more on these in a second) bits of meat, curtado, cheese and hard boiled egggs. They come 2 to an order and I don't see how anyone can eat two of these and still ahve room for more food. They are listed as an appetizer!!! SUre, an appetizer for the offensive line of the Redskins!

Next up are the Pupusas. The cheese and lorocco and the chorizo have been really great. Their ceviche is superb. Mostly fish and squid with about 3 or 4 shrimp, it is served in a rustic lime brine with loads of red onions. I fish out some of the onions and put them on top of my pupusa or enchillada as a pickle. I had grilled shortribs, three meaty pieces of cross cut ribs. They are grilled till crispy and a little tough with a salty coating and a lot of char flavor from the grill. They come with a cup of the beans. Well they call them beans. I believe they are a concoction of beans, their cooking water and lard whipped to a light and airy texture that belies their lard content. Light and fluffy lard! They taste somewhere between beans and chocolate frosting and gravy. They are positively addicting. The chicken soup was quite good in terms of the broth (dense, rich and comfrting and not salty at all) and the viggies (not mushy & overcooked like many versions) while the chicken was a little flavorless).

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We used to be crazy about Matamora as well, but were disappointed on our last couple visits ( how many times are they going to repaint that place anyway). We had been relying on Samanthas for our Savadorean/Mex cuisine, but I have alway been curious about Sergio's. I look forward to trying it now.

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If you're anywhere near Wheaton on the weekends, and are wondering where to go for breakfast, remember Sergio's Place right off Georgia Avenue with plenty of parking on Fern Street.

I stopped by the carryout window today and ordered a Desayuno Tipico (Con Carne) ($9.53 including tax) and got a platter of two eggs (over-easy, of course), grilled steak, refried beans, sour cream, a little wedge of delicious cheese, fried plantains, and a homemade tortilla (Las Guanacas is the wholesale arm of the business, and sells homemade tortillas and pupusas).

Julio Cruz and his family own the restaurant, and we chatted for awhile as I waited for my order. He's justifiably proud of his restaurant and cuisine, but adds that times are a bit slow for the wholesale business right now. I haven't had dinner here in ages, but I have to think that Sergio's Place would be perfect for a $20 Tuesday - I think you'd be hard-pressed to spend $20 here.

If you like Tropical Ice (formerly York Castle) ice cream, but don't feel like driving to downtown Silver Spring, they have pints available for purchase in the freezer right by the take-out window.



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