Cooking Mestizo

Ben Miller, age 16

Sometimes the name says it all.

Painted eight feet high on the back wall of Silver Spring, Maryland’s La Malinche is the restaurant’s namesake, a beautiful Nahua princess who aided the Spanish in their conquest of the Aztec Empire. Though lauded by history as the conjoiner of Spanish and Amerindian culture, La Malinche is reviled by many Latin Americans, denounced as a traitor who abetted the oppression and extermination of their ancestors. But within the confines of this tapas spot, past troubles are pushed aside in favor of small plates which effortlessly fuse Hispanic cuisine of the old and new worlds.

Founded by three brothers in November 2012, La Malinche impresses from first glance. Its warm color scheme and heavily decorated walls evoke the rich, historic spirit of Seville, from which tapas originate. Simultaneously, the restaurant’s décor, showcasing Central American art and imagery, reminds guests of the equally forceful presence of the new world in Hispanic culture.

La Malinche’s bicultural ambience perfectly prefaces its tapas. Given the restaurant’s diverse menu of meats, vegetables, and seafood, it is almost imperative to try it all. Luckily, La Malinche offers a $20 all-you-can-eat lunch special, offering an affordable means of sampling all the restaurant has to offer.

While La Malinche offers capable renditions of both Spanish classics, including pan catalana and tortilla española, and Latin standbys, like fried yuca and empanadas, the restaurant truly shines when blending both cuisines. The highlight of the menu is carne asada, grilled skirt steak topped with guacamole, onions and green peppers. The cilantro and coriander of the guacamole complement the traditional Spanish seasoning of the steak, creating a complex, layered taste which mandates a second helping. Likewise, the patatas bravas, fried wedged potatoes, are elevated through a distinctly Mexican chipotle aioli, which adds nuance to the typically crispy but bland Spanish dish. Other standout plates include the Mejillnoes al Vapór, steamed lemongrass mussels with a fresh Mediterranean flair, and the grilled asparagus spears, which are seared to a light char and smothered in salt and olive oil.

For all its success, certain menu options fall flat. The albondigas, traditional Spanish meatballs, are dry and over-seasoned, creating a musty taste. Similarly, the chorizo and pico de gallo are plainly underwhelming. Beyond the food, La Malinche appears chronically understaffed, leading to forgotten orders and habitually empty glasses.

Despite the hiccups, La Malinche offers an enjoyable culinary experience. By the time dessert (warm churros and buoyant caramel flan) is complete, a diner will have partaken in a unique cross-cultural dining experience. As the restaurant’s name promises, La Malinche presents an enjoyable blend of Spanish and Latin culture, though one decidedly less violent and controversial than its titular historical precedent.