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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Casual restaurant

Daily 8:00am–10:00pm

Bar None
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Not accepted

Columbia Heights
3110 Mt Pleasant St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 387-5410
Pupusería San Miguel
This hole in the floor makes pretty good pupusas and even better Mexican food

Down a set of stairs in a small, ugly Mount Pleasant basement lies one of Washington’s prime purveyors of the pupusa, a round little Salvadoran corn pocket that’s stuffed with cheese and, sometimes, meat. San Miguel is a find—if not so much for its pupusas, which are average, as for its Mexican food, which is well above the mean.

We’d call the restaurant hidden but for the large, homemade sign at street level announcing the place in bold red typeface. Inside, there’s a meager first dining room with fake-wood tables, a jukebox (selections tend to favor upbeat Mexican pop or ska), a television blaring Spanish-language news, and maybe a couple of men with beers and pupusas. The second dining room is slightly more formal, at least relative to the first: here, you get red checkered plastic on the tables, a couple of posters, and a generally quieter atmosphere.

Either way, the service is bound to be a bit slow, a mystifying and frustrating feature of a restaurant that’s usually nearly empty (carry-out, which is quicker, is a popular option). We can’t see behind the tall metal divider in the first room, but we suspect there’s just a single cook in the kitchen. There’s something trustworthy about this, especially when compared to the million-man kitchens of bad Mexican restaurants like Lauriol Plaza.

San Miguel makes a very good taco, even if its varieties are few: the res (beef) is moist and just a bit oily, with plenty of salt and spice. The tortilla is a small, thick flour or corn number with grill marks on both sides, and each taco is garnished with a dusting of queso fresco, a few thin slices of pepper, and a delicate avocado wedge. Also noteworthy is the chicken tamal, made with finely ground masa and stuffed with a potato wedge or two and plenty of spicy, shredded chicken. San Miguel also offers a decent plate of fried yuca and roasted chicken. Its pupusas are really nothing special relative to others in Salvadoran-rich DC (but then, it’s hard not to adore a fried ball of dough with cheese melting out from all edges), but even if the pupusería is a false front for a taquería, we like this place.

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