“What’s that?” a diner asks a waitress en route to delivering an order. The plate she’s bearing is covered with a massive flap of meat. In fact, it’s hard to tell if there’s a plate at all—the star of the show extends to the edges like a bedspread. The waitress smiles. It’s the dish everyone asks about at Sibarita—the one nearly every table gets. It’s called silpancho ($10.95 to $12.75), and this likable Bolivian restaurant prepares it more dramatically than most. A sizeable portion of lamb, beef, or chicken is pounded to the thinness of a paperback book jacket, fried, blanketed atop a pile of fried rice and potatoes, and crowned with fried eggs. The accompanying pico de gallo is for brightness and acidity. You’ll need it if you have any hope of getting halfway through the plate. Don’t even think about finishing.
Enormous as it is, the silpancho doesn’t begin to approach the gargantuan pique macho ($39)—a feast of grilled pork and beef, thick-cased chorizos, French fries, and boiled eggs. It’s meant for four and could probably serve six. One afternoon, I watched two men attack it and announce defeat halfway through.
Bolivia is a meat-and-potatoes culture, perhaps even more metaphorically than literally. Whether you’re a guest in a home or a customer, Bolivians are determined you shouldn’t walk away with less than a full stomach. It’s this generosity that makes most Bolivian restaurants a festive place to eat.
What will keep you coming back to this one is the quality and detail in the dishes. Order the chicharrón de pollo ($11.75) and you’re rewarded with beautifully seasoned hunks of bone-in chicken and fries that are hand-cut, not frozen. The caldo de costilla ($10.50), served on weekends, is a gorgeous stew of beef ribs, chicken, potato, rice, and green onions, all crammed into a delicately flavorful broth. The fabulous “hangover-cure soup” ($11.83) —pork ribs and potatoes in a searing yellow pepper sauce—is available Sunday only.
Sibarita is a party any day of the week, alive with music, bright colors, and smiling waitresses. But if you want to savor the heart of the cuisine, and not just the heartiness, come on a Saturday or Sunday.
This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Washingtonian.