El Catrachito

El Catrachito is nestled between the Dominican hair salons, Central America bakeries, pho shops, and, yes, even a very shady looking adult bookstore in Wheaton, a place whose diversity is matched only by its depressive vibe. There aren’t many reasons to go to Wheaton unless you are interested in visiting its metro station, which features the longest escalators in the Western Hemisphere (This is actually true. They are 230 feet long in case you were wondering. You weren’t? Oh.) You would never notice El Catrachito from the street because it blends in so well with its sad surroundings, but it looks like what I imagine the coffee shop from Seinfeld would be if it existed in Tegucigalpa instead of Manhattan.

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This is DC and we have about a thousand Salvadoran restaurants but this is the only place I’ve seen Honduran food. And, as I was made painfully aware a few weeks ago, there’s a reason why you don’t find many Guatemalan restaurants either. For the uninitiated, “El Catrachito” means “The Little Honduran,” and it’s surprisingly not even the only Honduran restaurant in Wheaton.

The inside has classic diner decor complete with the full-service counter and round stools fixed to the floor. It even has one of those old-fashioned candy machines where you have to carefully cup your hands over the exit to avoid dropping your five year-old M&Ms. If nothing else, this place was guaranteed to be a great dive.

Their menu is very extensive and I was pleased that it was almost entirely Honduran specialties. I ordered the Baleadas Catrachas (with beans, cheese, and sour cream), and my husband got Tajadas con Carne Asada, which I’d never had before. Sadly, El Catrachito doesn’t serve alcohol of any kind.

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My baleadas were huge, freshly grilled, and stuffed with smoky, dripping refried beans. The tortillas were warm and soft, and they tasted even better with the hot sauce that the restaurant kindly provides. They were simple but delicious.

We didn’t know what to expect with the tajadas. Our only clue was the faded picture inside the menu. We ordered the carne asada thinking that the steak would be a good litmus test for the restaurant–chewy meat is a no-go. But upon its arrival, we knew it was the right move. Tajadas is basically Honduras’s answer to the garbage plate. It contains fried bananas topped with meat, cabbage slaw, and a mayo-based dressing. I don’t know who first had the idea to combine fruit, meat, and mayonnaise, but may god bless that person every day of his life. Nobody knows why, but everything about it works. And even better–El Catrachito passed the meat test because that carne asada was soft and scrumptious. My only complaint is that I couldn’t wash it all down with a margarita.

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Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: Honduran food gets no respect and it should. El Catrachito gets it right, and the price tag ain’t bad either. You may even learn some Honduran geography from their giant wall map!

Seoul Food

I got a hot tip on this place, which is located very deceptively inside a gas station in Wheaton. In fact, I had a horrible time finding it because it’s not readily apparent from the outside and almost had a mental breakdown because I just wanted some Korean food. Sadly, this would not have been the first time I cried over not being able to find a restaurant. In order to spare everyone else the trouble and the tears, you can enter through the doors on the University Blvd. side or from the gas station entrance.

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seoulfood3The menu looks beautiful and there are a lot of options and sides, and great options for vegetarians. I wanted to keep it on the light side, and I was eating alone, so I went with the bibimbap (no rice because that’s how I roll) with bulgogi beef and the regular kimchi, and I ordered it spicy. They were nothing if not fast, and the two dishes arrived on beautiful plates and looking very composed. The bibimbap was on a bed of baby spinach with tons of shredded carrot and daikon. The kimchi was a little on the small side, but it looked great.

seoulfood1Kimchi: very refreshing with a nice semi-wilted, semi-crunchy texture, but dramatically under-spiced. I come from the school of thought that kimchi should be painful to eat and this was not.

Bibimbap: The beef was cooked nicely and tender, and it was a sufficient amount. The baby spinach and other veggies were fresh and the daikon was nice and cool. And my #2 rule of food is that a fried egg makes almost anything better. On the other hand, calling this “spicy” is an insult to all spicy things, and it was just generally nothing special. The sauce was good, but it needed more of it in general as both the veggies and the meat were pretty dry. I’ve made bibimbap at home and this tasted no better than mine, and I promise I’m not secretly some super-talented Korean chef.

Price: $15 per person

Bottom line: Seoul Food was just alright. I might even consider it good if I remember that it’s located inside of a gas station, but I feel like that should have no bearing on its rating. I think it was slightly overpriced for what I got, but it fed me, I feel good about what I ate, and I’d go here again if I were in the area and someone else wanted to try it and everything better was closed.