La Bamba

Next up on my weekend of bucket list restaurants: La Bamba! I’ve been simultaneously stoked and scared of going here for months. What if it turned out to be horrible? After last night’s sad disappointment and the ensuing diarrhea fest, I was even more hesitant to take a risk. We were in downtown Silver Spring and my trepidation almost caused me to chicken out and go to Mandalay instead. (Side note: what has gone wrong in my life that I consider Mandalay–a place where a waiter brought me an entire pitcher of water for just me because my mouth was actually that on fire–“playing it safe”?)

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I did my due diligence this time, or so I thought. At the very least, I was 90% sure that it had table service and alcohol. I also went for a 25-mile bike ride, so I was prepared to eat two dinners if that’s what it took to be satisfied.

To get things out of the way: yes, it is a sit-down restaurant with actual menus, and yes, they serve alcohol (do they ever!) My husband got a mojito, which was served in a pint glass, and I had an extremely strong margarita. No complaints here. We got free chips with salsa that was surprisingly good.

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Nostalgia and a keen understanding for what’s what led me to order a chuchito for each of us. Chuchitos are a type of Guatemalan dumpling: corn masa stuffed with meat and a tomato-based sauce, then steamed inside corn husks. “I don’t really like tamales,” said my husband. But these did not disappoint. Certainly they were elevated by the salsa verde our server brought us, but the dough was moist and silky, and the pork inside was rich.

In a misguided and ultimately futile attempt to not pig out, we decided to split the churrasco platter. If you are Latino, thin-sliced, well-done meat is a matter of fact. If you have traveled extensively in Central America, carne asada is a memento of a past life. But if you are a red-blooded American, it’s a travesty. La Bamba’s steak, however, was well-cooked and carried a delicious char-grilled flavor. The grilled scallions and refried beans were good accompaniments, and the potato-carrot salad was like a heavily-mayonnaised taste of home.

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We were stuffed but there was no way I was leaving without getting the plantains in mole for dessert. Picture this: crispy-soft caramelized plantains smothered in slightly spicy, dark-chocolatey mole. Sounds great, right? WRONG!  You would be completely missing the deeply toasted sesame seeds dotting this dish, which elevated it from some Bluth’s banana-stand nonsense to a nutty, smokey, spicy mess of magic, reminding me of a heinously good s’more. My husband and I spent a solid twenty minutes discussing how we could use this dish as inspiration for our next batch of homebrew, but I was secretly plotting how I could just reproduce this dish at home.

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Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: You could eat at La Bamba and be pretty happy, even if you weren’t Guatemalan. But you would be remiss to pay your bill without trying the platano con mole. I don’t care how full you think you are.

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