El Sapo Social Club, Silver Spring, Maryland

Nancy and I ran into our friend, Maurice Perkins, and, as so often happens when I run into people, the conversation turned to food. Maurice is from Miami, so the subject immediately pivoted to Cuban food. Maurice recommended El Sapo in Silver Spring, and Nancy and I dutifully drove over there for an early Sunday lunch.

We found an arguably legal parking space right in front, and walked in. We immediately were immersed in a Cuban atmosphere — Cuban music, Cuban decor, and Cuban staff. Sapo is Spanish for frog, and there’s a long mural of anthropomorphic frogs in a Cuban nightclub.

I liked the mural. It drew your attention, and was balanced by the very large retractable windows along the entire street side. The retractable wall and the high ceiling offer lots of light and a bit of an industrial feel. It all works together.

I ordered a Ceviche Classico for “The Table,” which is one of my aliases.  

That’s a generous serving in a large bowl. Nancy isn’t a huge ceviche fan, but she ate some and then ate some more. I loved it — the lime, the delicious fish, the onion, and the jalapeño…. Wow! This was the best ceviche I’ve had in I don’t know how long, and I’ve had some great ceviche, especially here in St.Kitts and here in Vail. If there’s a better ceviche in the Washington area, I want to know about it.

For my main, I ordered a Cuban sandwich, which came with French fries.

It smelled delicious and tasted even better.  The key to a Cuban sandwich is the pork, and this was very close to classic Cuban pork, with mojo and sour orange. What delicious and fragrant pork! Let’s zoom in.

My heart, be still. El Sapo makes the best Cuban sandwich I’ve had in the Washington area since Antonio’s closed about 40 years ago. El Sapo’s Cuban was dressed with some deli-style hot pepper relish, and that was a very nice touch. The pickles were good, but sliced unusually thick so that they interfered a bit with the balance of the sandwich elements. Oddly, there was no mustard, but I think the pepper relish provided the sharpness you want with the richness of the pork–a different approach, but one that worked very well. The French fries were well cooked, and they (or maybe the sandwich) came with a flavorful remoulade that the fries just loved.

Nancy just ordered the rice with cumin

and an order of black beans.

I’m not a huge cumin fan, and I think that it ended up being a larger voice in the dish that it should have been. Indeed, the cumin overshadowed the garlic. The beans themselves were tasty, cooked with peppers and onions, and the serving was large. As you can see, the beans were on the soupy side, but the liquid helped sauce the rice.

Overall it was a delicious meal. Despite the abundance of food, our wily server somehow persuaded us to share an order of flan.

The flan, too, was a very generous serving.   It had a thick, creamy texture and was appropriately sweet, with lovely caramel. Nancy volunteered,  “This is excellent!” and “Next time I’ll just order this.” That’s high praise indeed. Nancy used to make flan frequently, including as Christmas gifts for friends several years. Nancy’s flan is unbeatable, but I admit that El Sapo’s is almost as good as Nancy’s.   

El Sapo is a very comfortable space and it has a very good kitchen. The menu is fairly limited, and I suppose that may be why they do things so well. I’d like to see a couple more options, or at least Nancy would. I’ll probably keep ordering the Cubano or the puerco asado, but you never can tell. But El Sapo is a must-visit. As I said, the Cubano and the ceviche are the best in my DC area experience, and that’s a good sign for the rest of the menu.


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