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Tortilla Cafe, The Canales Family's Hole-in-the-Wall Gem at Eastern Market


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Senor Canales's Tortilla Grill and Cafe is not only a tiny jewel on the Hill, but one of DC's best hole in the wall secrets! The Canales family is one of the major players at Eastern Market owning three different stalls: Canales Deli, the stand with the fresh pasta, and Canales Meats.

Several years ago the Senor of deli fame opened up a tiny eat in/take out store front serving El Salvadoran/Mexican food directly across the street from the Market. It was an immediate success, with lines stretching out the door. But one shouldn't been surprised when the kitchen staff was ordered to make the food like they would at home and a pork tamale, 2 mixed (pork and cheese) papusas with a side of plantains running you $8.


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I love the Cuban sandwich and the mixed pupusa. Frankly, if there's a line at the Market Lunch, just go across the street. Nicer service, good food.

Also, I've been wanting to try some of their swordfish dishes but always wimp out... there's still that nagging feeling that the swordfish from a tiny hole in the wall carryout might fill me with intestinal regret. Has anyone tried it? I'm very very curious...

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Unfortunately, we'll never know about all the dining options here, because Tweaked refuses to update this, the oldest restaurant thread on the entire board. Is this place open for dinner?

It (being Tortilla Cafe) is open in the evenings, but I'm not sure until how late. I stop in there sometimes to pick up pupusas to take home for dinner. Their pickled cabbage condiment is excellent and I sometimes just buy some of that. (You can do this if you ask. I'm blanking on what it's called after having just learned the name after reading the Post article on pupuserias recently.)

There isn't a huge amount of seating inside, but there are several tables. In warmer/good weather, there are also tables outside.

I'll check the closing time and update. (I just found an old carryout menu that says it's open until 7 PM, but I'll double check.)

(Don, you're making me dizzy :blink:)

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I ran into Senor Canales a couple of days ago and asked about their appearance on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. He said that he thought it would be airing soon but he didn't know exactly when. (I thought of this when I saw the post in the Comet Ping Pong thread). I'm hoping it will be well-publicized.

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It pains me to write this, but I've just been back for the first time since the Guy Fieri experience, and I'm very unhappy. The lovely vinegary curtido has now been blasted with chile/chili powder (not sure which) to the point where it is virtually inedible. There was a time I would buy this by the quart because I loved it so much. I can't eat it. I put some of it on the food I bought, but it's way too overpowering. It's not too hot. It's just wrong. I don't understand why they did this.

What I thought was sour cream was liquid and I'm not sure what the intention was, though I poured it over my pupusa and tamale. (I got takeout.)

The service was wonderful. The man who waited on me immediately offered me water, which was appreciated. And Catalina, the owner, gave me a water refill when she handed me my food. I want them to do well, even though I'm a sporadic and unreliable customer.

The basic food was good. The condiments were off.

I weep for the curtido :mellow:

ETA: It occurred to me later that what I thought was sour cream was probably crema. I don't think they used to give either one, but I may not be remembering correctly, since I haven't been there in a while.

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ETA: It occurred to me later that what I thought was sour cream was probably crema. I don't think they used to give either one, but I may not be remembering correctly, since I haven't been there in a while.

They always used to give out crema...so it was probably crema.

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They always used to give out crema...so it was probably crema.

What's odd is that I don't recall ever getting it before, but maybe it comes with the tamales and not the pupusas? The pupusas and empanadas are my usual order. I felt like ordering something different this time so I got a tamale to go with my pupusa.

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The curtido is back on course :) . It is hotter than it used to be years ago, but the heat seems to be coming from tiny bits of chile. It's no longer what I termed inedible after my last visit and (once again) quite good. I guess I must have caught them last time when they were experimenting with recipes.

The other night, I got two pork and cheese pupusas and an order of beef nachos. With tax, all that cost less than the beef nachos at Pacifico Cantina a few blocks away, and the nachos were way better. They had good heat and the beef was well-integrated into the nachos.

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Had a spontaneous weekday late lunch with my husband at Tortilla Cafe today.  He got the salmon fajitas, which he polished off because he was famished, but he said the salmon was pretty flavorless.  He liked the french fries he got on the side, which were of the heftier steak fry variety.  His green salad was simple and fine.  The Italian dressing was a packet of Newman's Own.

I got the Salvadoran chicken sandwich, which had big chunks of moist chicken, hot peppers, lettuce, some cheese.  I guess there was mayo?  It was quite good, on a soft roll.  Not too big.  Not too bready.  Plenty of heat.  The black beans and rice I got on the side were standard.

The total lunch cost $18 and change, and I'm still full.  My husband will want dinner, but there's no way I can eat any more.

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I had a craving for nachos today and picked some up from Tortilla Cafe.  They do them differently than other places. These come with nicely sautéed onions and red and green pepper slices, plus black beans. (That's the vegetarian version, which is $5 something; the beef or chicken is a dollar or two more.)  There are tiny cups of crema, guacamole, and red salsa to accompany.  Nothing can beat the price and they're better than others I've had at close to twice the price.

I've still not eaten them at the cafe. The ~15 minute minute walk home surely degrades them a bit, but they're still better than a lot of others even given that.

I"m saving the last of the toppings. I think I'm going to make tacos out of them tomorrow from flour tortillas I have from parent company Canales in Eastern Market.

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