2505 Champlain St. NW
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through
Sunday; closed Monday.
Prices: Appetizers $1.85 to $3.75, entrees $4.85 to $10.95.
Cards: American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa.
Sometimes a restaurant is worth searching out if only to sample a single dish. That thought occurred to me while dining at Churreria Madrid, a small, two-level Spanish restaurant in Adams-Morgan. The candidate for such a dish? No contest: the kitchen's fried-to-order churros.
A plate of the delicate, teardrop-shaped doughnuts, dusted with sugar, is one of the neighborhood's most deliciously addictive snacks. The fact that one can order four for 50 cents or a dozen for a dollar makes them a remarkable bargain as well.
To emphasize churros is not to dismiss the rest of the menu, which focuses on fish, seafood, beef and eggs. You might have to choose a bit more carefully, but there are sufficient delights to be had among main courses.
Bear in mind that Churreria Madrid is no polished dining facility, but rather a modest family-style restaurant. No one ever seems to be eating downstairs; indeed, upon arrival, guests are generally directed a flight up, to a long room that looks part luncheonette, part meeting room, with a vaguely Spanish accent. Decoration is sparse, the tables are jammed together and the combination of conversation and music is less background than foreground sound.
Service isn't much of a recommendation, either. Sometimes it's just okay and sometimes it's plain inhospitable, such as the time I requested a bowl of gazpacho and the waiter shot back "no" without any explanation. Or the night a tablemate requested ketchup for his french fries and was informed in no uncertain terms that Spanish restaurants carry neither ketchup nor steak sauce.
That said, the best part of the service at Churreria Madrid is likely to be the busboy's: He might not have anything to say, but he's diligent about attending to the needs of patrons -- refilling bread baskets and water glasses, clearing plates -- without being unpleasant.
Given Churreria Madrid's low prices, diners are probably more apt to put up with any indifference on the part of the staff. A light omelet of potatoes and eggs, tortilla espanola, makes a satisfying breakfast or light dinner for only a dollar. Likewise, the plump and meaty empanadas, accented with bits of onion and green pepper, are a mere 90 cents apiece. And a small pitcher of refreshingly fruity sangria, enough for two thirsty diners, will set you back only $3.50. Side dishes, including subtly sweet fried plantains served with sour cream, and rice and black beans, are similarly reliable and economical.
There are a few more pitfalls among the main courses. Take the rebuelto de pescado, a seafood combination: the shrimp were plump, the ringlets of squid succulent (and many), and the oiled saffron rice was without a doubt a most delicious pilaf. But the chunks of fish were indeed fishy and the whole dish would have been better without the chef's not-so-special "special" sauce, which smacked more of salt than anything else. And a breakfast of fried eggs, tough, chewy choroizo sausage, french fries and greasy fried green peppers proved a not-so-pleasant introduction to the day.
Better were the garlicky pork chops, and a generous plate of thinly sliced, marinated beef, milanesa a caballo.
All of which reminds us that eating a multicourse meal at Churreria Madrid is merely a good excuse to order dessert -- a plate of churros, naturally.
Tom Sietsema is on the staff of The Washington Post Food section.