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“Me: 15 Years Too Late; El Chalan: Always Elegant,Charming, & Delicious”

El Chalan Restaurant
Ranked #305 of 3,284 Restaurants in Washington DC
Certificate of Excellence
Price range: US$0 - US$20
Cuisines: American, Latin, Peruvian
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Restaurant details
Dining options: After-hours, Reservations
Neighbourhood: Dupont Circle
Reviewed 25 July 2014

I’m a really, really chagrined to say it, but this is a review I should have written 15 years ago. While I don’t live in D.C., I get back there on business a few times a year. One of the best things about it is that I get to see old friends–and El Chalan’s menu and staff are old friends. I visit every single time I’m in Washington—in good years, maybe 2-3 times, in bad years maybe once—but I always go—it’s at the top of my favorite places to eat in the District. My pilgrimages to the best Peruvian food in the nation’s capital began well over 15 years ago. So from that, you can gather that I’ve been there roughly well over two dozen times. Further, when I travel, it’s common to have a work colleague along—and I drag them there too. While honestly most have been reluctant; most have been pleasantly surprised—and I have yet to have any of them tell me they didn’t enjoy it. Truthfully, most of them remember it for years, because it’s that far off their well-beaten culinary paths, that they make note of it. Further, I almost always see a table of the local Latin American crowd (diplomats, expats, & first-generation)—so that oughta tell you something too. So, hopefully having established the context for the high marks, let’s get down to specifics. El Chalan is near 19th and I Street and best accessible by Metro (Farragut West or Macpherson Square both work well). It’s located ‘below ground’ /basement level which may seem odd, but it’s rustic/peasant semi-elegant inside with old ‘icon-ish’ religious paintings and Peruvian murals on the walls and classy presentations at the table (i.e., real cloth tablecloths and napkins). Definitely a place to take a date or new friend if you want to impress (I did, and it’s still going strong after 7 years!). That said, I've gone solo, with co-workers, and with friends. It fits everyone equally well (perhaps it's not the place to take small children, but I have seen them there). Moving forward, they have a solid, fairly diverse wine selection and do the standard mixed drinks as well. The Peruvian Pisco Sour (mixed drink) is a far more refreshing and far better tasting alternative to assembly-line Mid-Atlantic versions of south-of-the-border blended Margaritas. They have a small beer selection which does include a Peruvian pilsner-style brew—as a bit of beer snob, it’s not especially notable, but it’s unique since it’s from… Peru. Here, it is important to interject—Peruvian food is NOT Mexican food. It doesn’t look like it and it doesn’t taste like it. It’s more hearty beef/chicken/fish and potatoes/rice type-fare with flavorful, but not necessarily hot, spices (there’s a fairly hot sauce that accompanies a few dishes, but it’s on the side). Bread, butter and the spicy dipping sauce start things off. There are about dozen or so appetizers selections to choose from including ceviches, some other small-portioned seafood starters, sliced baked potatoes done a couple of ways, anticuchos (thin sliced grilled beef hearts), and a good number of mixed salads and soups. Note: their menu is on-line and is adequately descriptive. I love the ceviche mixto, the papas rellenas and the anticuchos (my favorite—do not be put off—they’re phenomenal). The entrees include house specialties like lomo saltado especial (filet mignon done in a Peruvian style—sliced, grilled filet with potatoes, rice, grilled onions, peppers) and a goat stew (interesting and tasty). They have a good number of exotic sounding, but totally safe dishes that quite honestly will please most palates—adventurous to timid. There are some good desserts, but my favorite is the rice pudding—smooth and creamy with a hint of spice—really nice—essentially, I find it irresistible! Plus, excellent, attentive service that doesn’t crowd you; no crazy loud traditional music or wacky plate throwing; and no long waits. Not sure if they do reservations, but I’ve never needed them. Typical meal for two with drinks, appetizers, entrees, desserts, coffee, tip, etc. will probably put you up at around $100-$120. I tend to go nuts since I can’t eat there as often as I like, so my tab tends to go a bit higher—then again, I have to be rolled out of there on most occasions, having ridiculously stuffed myself until I’m about to cry. To sum it up, if you’ve never tried Peruvian, you’re missing a real treat. Highly recommend!

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Thank Fritz59
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviews (235)
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112 - 116 of 235 reviews

Reviewed 7 June 2014

We wanted to try an ethnic food in DC and found this place in downtown area. It is a small but lively place with good food. We had the goat stew and lomo saltado which both tasted great.

Thank pfaizian
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 2 June 2014

We recently visited El Chalan with another couple for dinner. We had red sangria--which was sweet and easy to drink--and shared an order of the ceviche which was delicious, abundant, and nicely presented. Three out of the four of us had the seafood rice dish--which was very much like paella--and the fourth (a non-shellfish eater) had a chicken with cilantro and rice dish. The portions were really enough so that we could have shared two instead of ordering four. But the excess meant great leftovers for lunch the next day!
Service was unpretentious. The room was exceptionally noisy--small and underground--and there was a guitarist for live entertainment--which made conversation very challenging.
Definitely a very good value for a nice meal downtown.

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Thank Washingtonwander
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 16 May 2014

We passed El Chalan regularly on our walks from the Foggy Bottom Marriot Courtyard to the Farragut West Metro station and, never having sampled Peruvian cuisine, we finally decided to check it out and have dinner once during our visit to D.C. It was located just east of the intersection of 20th and I Streets NW and lay below street level. We made reservations for a midweek dinner but it turned out the restaurant was not particularly busy the night we dined there. While more diners showed up as the night went on the restaurant never got so noisy as to make quiet conversation a problem.

It was a cozy establishment with a rustic decor (white/stucco walls, dark wood furniture and trim, beige tiles) and fairly low ceilings. We were seated right away. The service was friendly and prompt. We started with the ceviche mixto and Anticuchos El Chalan (marinated beef heart) appetizers. We moved on to the lomo saltado (sauteed beef strips) and cabrito norteno (goat stew). We topped it off with tres leches and coffee.

We did not come with any particular or high expectations from the restaurant and though we found the food was well-cooked and tasty, we were also not awed by its quality either. All-in-all our family had a pleasant dinner at El Chalan.

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Thank ImmerWandern
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 16 May 2014

I recently had the opportunity to dine at El Chalan with friends from the District. A new experience to try Peruvian selections. We started with yummy Piscos Sours. Piscos is a grape brandy. Because it was my first time I agreed that the locals should select food items with the help of staff. We started with Ceviche and Shrimp in Garlic/Butter sauce. Both very good. For entrees we had the Goat Stew and Beef Tenderloin tips with potatoes and onions. Even though I come from beef country, I thought the Goat Stew was best. We drank a delicious Malbec the waiter recommended. Our desserts were very good. I will definitely return on future visits and search out Peruvian cuisine in other cities.

The service was excellent.

Thank Jim F
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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