In the heart of Navy Yard, you can get a taste of Puerto Rico with one stop at La Famosa.
Mofongo is one of the traditional dishes from Puerto Rico you can find on the menu.
“The dish we all think came probably from West Africa and was introduced into Puerto Rico, you know, through colonialism,” owner and Chef Joancarlo Parkhurst said. “Puerto Rico’s really unique in the sense that we have Taíno, which is indigenous native culture, African culture, and then obviously the European culture. This dish represents a little of everything.”
Mofongo is made with mashed, fried plantains, then mashed with garlic mojo and fried chicharrones (crispy pork skin). Chicken stock is also served on the side to add a little moisture to the mofongo.
“Mofongo is pretty much a neutral base for just about everything and anything,” Parkhurst said.
La Famosa serves mofongo with shrimp, crispy pork belly or vegetarian picadillo.
Parkhurst says 80% of the core recipes at La Famosa come from his experiences with his grandmother in Puerto Rico, but it’s also nontraditional.
“Every Puerto Rican cook, every grandma, every mom, every dad that cooks, they all have their own spin on it …,” he said. “Once in a while, I’ll encounter someone be like, ‘It doesn’t taste like my grandma, but it’s really good.’ I’m like, that’s OK, and that’s the goal, right? That’s what we’re looking to do.”
Parkhurst was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, and moved to New York City with his mother at an early age. The rest of his family remained in Puerto Rico, so he would visit for almost three months out the year. Parkhurt says he spent a lot of time with his grandmother in Puerto Rico and she was an incredible cook.
“Some of my most vivid memories are just cooking in that kitchen,” he said.
Those memories are the reason why Parkhurst left law school.
“I was almost disowned,” said Parkhurst. “And although the idea was for me to be a doctor or a lawyer, I just took all those life lessons and went in a completely different direction.”
That direction led Parkhurst to Bethesda; he was transferred while working for Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
“I‘ve lived here close to 20 years and always jonesing for a little bit of home and always struggling, and there are some nice places that do great job of Puerto Rican cuisine, but just not as accessible,” Parkhurst said.
That’s why he and his business partner decided there’s a need or market for La Famosa.
“My cuisine is not necessarily meant just for the diaspora,” said Parkhurst. “It’s really kind of to introduce people to what cocina criolla is, which is the cuisine of Puerto Rico.”