A full-size lion statue stands on the roof of Sibarita, staring proudly into the distance on one side of the restaurant’s marquee. A monstrous satellite dish is perched on the other side. A riot of potted plants border the patio to the right of the entrance, greeting you with their color and perfume. The patio umbrellas look like a cluster of palapas on a Yucatan beach, and as the sun sets on the outdoor space, strings of lights come alive.
The effect is intoxicating and bewildering, as if you’re taking a tropical vacation right in Arlington. Or perhaps setting foot in a South American junk shop to buy a cow-shaped love seat (yes, there’s one right inside the door).
But as a harbinger of what’s inside, the exterior landscaping is dead-solid perfect: Sibarita is a Bolivian restaurant that embraces the open-ended, reinvent- yourself nature of American culture. The place pays its respects to Bolivian cuisine with plate after plate after plate of meat — a menagerie of pounded, grilled, dehydrated or fried critters, from chicken to lamb. But Sibarita also cooks up some creative variations on its native foods. Think: a chicken cheesesteak, a spiced and thinly pounded version by way of La Paz.
Such minor-key reinventions, however, are not the primary reason to visit Sibarita. The centerpiece of the place is its parrillada familiar, a sizzling cast-iron platter weighed down with enough juicy meats to feed a family of four — with leftovers to last a week. This barbecue fantasia includes grilled strip steak, bone-in short ribs, nearly a half-section of chicken and a few glistening links of chorizo; it’s served with “fat fries” (essentially boiled and lightly fried potato wedges), a dressed salad and jasmine rice. At $54.50 for four people (or $28.95 for two), the parrillada is a bargain hunter’s big-game trophy.
More important, the parrillada is a campfire of a meal, a platter of charred meats around which friends and family can gather to talk, laugh, decompress and fight over that succulent, smoky section of chicken breast. The beef cuts are grilled to medium-well or well-done, which means they require an application of llajua, the spicy and fragrant Bolivian salsa, to brighten their salty pleasures. Or, pair the beef with a bite of salad for an acidic edge. Either way, you’re golden.
Even single diners (a decidedly underserved demographic in Bolivian restaurants) can dine across species without resorting to the death-by-parrillada option. These lone bodies can opt for the pique macho, a heaving, colorful plate of sliced steak, chorizo, hot dogs, fat fries, tomato wedges, oversize ovals of jalapeno, slices of hard-boiled egg and slivers of red onion. The moisture content of the dish couldn’t keep a mosquito hydrated, but there are enough potential pairing combinations that you’ll suss out a bite (or five) that will satisfy the palate, particularly when each is fired up with llajua.
One way to add moisture, without resorting to salsa, is to order a dish topped with a fried egg or two. Sibarita offers a number of them, including a lomo saltado variation called lomo montado. When you crack the yolk on your egg, its golden liquid oozes and coats the marinated steak and fat fries below, adding a layer of richness like a French mother sauce. The llajua helps here, too. It lightens the heavy load on the end of your fork.
More fried eggs top Sibarita’s silpancho dishes, the Bolivian staple of thinly pounded animal flesh, whether chicken, lamb, pork or beef. Whichever cut you select, the kitchen will beat it silly; the meat arrives on the plate looking as if you could fold it into a paper airplane. Its breading is just thick enough to absorb a little oil and give it a little body. The kitchen’s technique, I have to say, is damn impressive, even if the cutlets occasionally suck up too much grease, demanding more of the ubiquitous salsa to cut it.
The kitchen even tucks slivers of silpancho meat into its line of sandwich wraps or envueltos, which it cleverly markets as Bolivian gyros. If this is Sibarita’s way to entice Americans into the Bolivian fold, I support it. The lamb silpancho wrap is a Chipotle-esque log in which the emaciated meat receives generous support from its bit players, whether with texture (lettuce) or acid (yogurt).
The mad genius behind Sibarita is chef-owner Jorge Alborta, a first-time restaurateur who opened the restaurant in 2011 with his sister, who has since left the operation. Alborta’s brand of Bolivian ingenuity doesn’t stop at silpancho wraps. He has also downsized the standard masaco and rebranded it a Bolivian pupusa. The yuca-and-cheese version is not the starch bomb you’d expect, but a velvety mash with a crisped exterior, the whole thing seasoned expertly. I could eat a small stack of these beauties, as if I were at my favorite pupuseria.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but the masaco also benefits from llajua, as does the silken papa a la huankaina, the gamy grilled lamb and almost every other dish on the menu. Part of the salsa’s secret is the cilantro-like quilquina herb, which Alborta grows on his patio, behind all those gorgeous potted plants. And under the watchful eye of that proud lion on the roof.
2716 Washington Blvd., Arlington.
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to
11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.
to 9 p.m.
Nearest Metro: Clarendon, with a 0.6-mile walk to the restaurant.
Sandwich and entree prices: $6.95-$15.99; parrillada familiar $54.50.