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Samantha's [Restaurant]

The other night, we were tired and crabby and no one felt much like cooking. The Mr. drove us to our favorite El Salvadorean place, El Gavilan, but they were closed because of heating problems (the weather outside was just above freezing). The Mr. got the Prius' GPS to find other places nearby, and we remembered we'd heard good things about Samantha's.

Parking is not their strong suit, for sure. The restaurant's little storefront is part of the strip of small businesses and tiny houses along University Boulevard near Piney Branch Road. On one side is the Wishy Wash laundromat, on the other a private home. Much of the available parking is restricted: pay attention to the signs.

Once we were inside, we could see that the restaurant stretched a long way back from the entry. It was clean, brightly decorated with vintage posters for food and drink, and almost every table was full - at 7:30 on a Thursday night. The air was lively with conversation in English and Spanish, and many of the customers were families with children.

One of the professional reviews describes Samantha's as "pan-Latino." The menu includes a wide range of food, with emphasis on El Salvadorean and Mexican. You can get platters of enchiladas, burritos, and fajitas, if that's what you're after, but you can also get some classic Latin American dishes, such loma saltado and carne asado. Beer and Latin American sodas are available, along with the usual range of soft drinks.

We ordered tamal de elote (sweet corn tamales) as an appetizer, because we wanted to compare them to El Gavilan's (Samantha's actually lists them as a side, but they had no problem serving them as an appetizer). They were the closest thing we had to a disappointment: they are blander and less savory than the ones we usually have, and they were served with U.S.-style sour cream, not the thinner, salted Latin American crema.

I also ordered the ensalada tropical, because I didn't see any green vegetables on the menu. It was a huge plate of good-quality dark green lettuce topped with tomatoes, hearts of palm, avocado slices - and also onions and a mighty ring of green pepper, which I avoided (I can't eat those things). The dressing was the savory mayo-type dressing that I've had at other Latino restaurants.

Then our main dishes came, and we realized that we'd been foolish to order appetizers. The platters were huge, and mine and the Mr.'s included carrots and broccoli. The Young Lady got beef fajitas, a bountiful serving brought on a plancha (heated metal platter with a wooden base), just as at El Gavilan. The toppings included a good-looking pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream. The soft flour tacos looked to be home-made, and there were sides of Spanish rice and seasoned red beans. My masitas de puerco was a dish of tasty marinated pork chunks in a very tangy pan sauce flavored with bitter oranges and mustard, and the Mr.'s steak dish (which doesn't seem to be on the online version of the menu) was a butterflied (!) New York strip - very thin yet still pink in the middle, as requested - rubbed with seasonings (something like a chimichurri - parsley and garlic). Our sides were black beans and white rice, and the Mr.'s had fries as well, apparently because you gotta have fries with steak.

We had to pack up half of our food to take home, but we still had to hit the desserts because there was such a range of them, The Mr. had flan, which proved to be a proper version (likely made with evaporated milk), although it was a bit overdone along one edge. The Young Lady had cajeta, which in Samantha's view is a caramel sauce with toasted coconut over vanilla ice cream, with whipped cream on top (this is not on the online menu either). I had fresas ala Romana, which was sliced fresh strawberries with some sort of custard sauce (I think it may have had tiny bits of toasted coconut or something similar in it) and a little puff of whipped cream as well. Both were very tasty.

We'll be going back!

Samantha's | 631 University Boulevard East, Silver Spring, MD 20901 | (301) 445-7300


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