Sergio's goes beyond the clichés. There are pastelitos guanacos, fried half moons of dough filled with minced pork and vegetables, the Guatemalan cousin of empanadas. And Guatemalan-style enchiladas, crisp tortillas piled with chicken or beef, pickled slaw, and hard-cooked eggs. Pupusas–both regular and rice-dough versions–deserve attention too, especially an offbeat combination of zucchini and cheese. Salpicon is a mouth-pleasing heap of vinegary shredded beef punctuated with bits of crunchy onion and radish. The grandmotherly chicken with spicy red-chili mole sauce delivers comfort Latin-style. And the unconventional pan Cubano, with its thick, hand-carved slices of house-baked ham and pork, is a terrific mouthful.
The kitchen of this color-splashed cafe rarely turns out a clunker. For dessert try mashed plantains filled with milky custard or the cashew-apple drink known as maranon. Though not billed as a dessert, it makes for a sweet, nutty finish.
Sergio's Place, 11324 Fern St.; 301-962-7066. Atmosphere: Appealing cafe with an eager-to-please staff and a jukebox of Latin hits. Entrées: $4.95 to $13.95. Bottom line: A chef with a real feel for Central American cuisine–and an address to seek out. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.