Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Atmosphere: Plain but pleasant. Price range: $4.95 to $6.95. Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express. Reservations: Not necessary.Special facilities: Street parking only; several steps make entrance inaccessible to wheelchairs; no boosters or highchairs.
In Adams-Morgan, small restaurants abound, including many that serve native Hispanic food. In such a neighborhood, a restaurant has to be decent to keep up.
El Migueleno, the newest of the Hispanic kitchens, is more than decent and ought to have no trouble keeping pace with its established neighbors. Migueleno prices nothing higher than $6.95, and certainly offers an alternative to the old standbys.
Housed on the first floor of a renovated town house, El Migueleno hangs its name amid neon blue palm trees in the front window. The dining room itself is small, pleassant and simple, with an odd mix of skylights, wagon wheel chandeliers and El Salvadoran posters. The atmosphere is comfortable and genial -- the kind of setting that both children and parents find relaxing. El Salvadoran popular music plays and the food is good; local families come and linger. You would be welcome, too.
But don't go if you are in a hurry. Service is attentive but not speedy, and the kitchen seems to concentrate on each order individually. The food is freshly prepared, and we had time after ordering to go through three baskets of good tostados and a hot salsa, freshly made of ripe tomatoes, onions and peppers. When our dinners did arrive, they looked worth waiting for.
If, like me, you could eat antipasto all night, you'd like the idea of El Migueleno's El Pipil, a dinner platter assortment of the restaurant's appetizers. Our 15-year-old daughter, offering proof positive that kids do reach a point at which they're willing to experiment, ordered it to try several things at once. Some were more successful than others.
Fried plaintains were her favorite, and yucca, fried crisp in a fritter-like batter, was also good. A tangy marinated slaw was pleasant. The other selections were variations of cornmeal dough shaped around meat and potato fillings. The masa harina dough in a papusa, a cornmeal pancake filled with ground meat, was a bit heavy, and a tamal was mushy and not worth more than a taste. The best was a pastelito, a small, firm-doughed turnover shaped around chunks of meat and potato. In all, it was an interesting sampler of plain food.
Our 11-year-old daughters ordered a cheese enchilada ($5.25) and Bistec Encebollado ($4.95). The enchilada was a winner, creamy with melted cheese and a fragrant tomato sauce. The pan-fried steak was a plain but good dinner, accompanied by nicely cooked but still firm onions and a lettuce-and-tomato salad. Chile relleno ($5.95) was full of shredded meat and covered with a flavorful sauce.
I ordered El San Vicente ($6.25), because I was intrigued with its description: "pork meat pinned with tomatoes, green peppers and onion." Sure enough, it was a brochette, but with a difference. Fresh tomatoes and hot peppers were not grilled but chopped into a colorful garnish with a bite to it -- a nice complement to the grilled pork. All dishes were accompanied by rice, somewhat overseasoned with lime juice, and various other dishes: refried beans, a salad or a plain tortilla.
El Migueleno offers rice pudding and flan for dessert ($1.50 each). We didn't like the pudding, which seemed to lack even minimal sweetening, but the flan was first-rate. "I love it, and I don't even like flan," said my daughter, reaching for the last bite on my plate.
Our bill for five, tax and tip included, was $45.85.