Puerto Rican native Joancarlo Parkhurst is wary of the way Latin cuisines too often get lumped together, with mash-up menus and fusion flavors.
“We all kind of get put into one box.” Parkhurst says. “Yes, we share common threads—language and some common lineage and history—but we have rich and diverse cultures within us. And so I thought it was time to showcase what the Puerto Rican culture is.”
The result is La Famosa, an all-day “fast-fine” Puerto Rican restaurant which opened this week in Navy Yard. For Parkhurst, this is the first restaurant to tap into the food of his childhood. The law school dropout-turned-chef-and-manager has worked from New York to Miami to San Juan and initially came to the DC area with Ruth’s Chris. He also helped to open RPM Italian and previously ran (now-closed) Lina’s Diner & Bar in Silver Spring.
At La Famosa, named after a Puerto Rican canning company that Parkhurst’s family owned until the late 1970s, the chef is embracing the humble roots of Puerto Rican food but not sticking strictly to tradition.
“A lot of our historically cultural food comes from a level of poverty, whether it be salt cod, different cured meats, a limited selection of vegetables outside of what we can grow on the island,” he says.
Parkhurst, however, aims to embrace the bounty of ingredients available here and now. His bacalao is cured from scratch in house, while a fry-shack-style whole crispy snapper gets paired with non-traditional coconut rice and spicy slaw. The lunch and dinner menu also includes a seafood salad served with tostones, carne guisada (a slow-cooked beef stew), and a handful of sandwiches (like the tripleta with roast pork, beef, and ham).
The food is matched with a rum-heavy cocktail list that includes a guava smash, rum negroni, and pina colada. The small wine selection draws from countries like France and Portugal “that have impacted Puerto Rico from a colonial standpoint.”
Service starts, though, from 7 to 11 AM with breakfast, including a full coffee bar and “batidos”—a blend of milk, fruit (mango, sousop), sugar, and ice. The restaurant bakes its own flaky pastries, including pastelillos stuffed with guava and a quesito filled with cream cheese.
After an overwhelming showing earlier this week, the restaurant has temporarily suspended lunch and is only taking carryout orders from walk-ins. But going forward, a lunch/dinner menu will be served seven days a week with online ordering and delivery. Outdoor dining is available, too.
La Famosa. 1300 Fourth St., SE. 202-921-9882.