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El Rey de Chivito - Fast Gourmet inside of a Gas Station, DC

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Following a thread on donrockwell.com, I couldn't resist going to a sandwich shop inside a gas station at 14th and W Sts, NW called Fast Gourmet. Serious sandwich making highlighted by a Uruguyan chivito, a feast that has been a sensation in Miami for a while now.

This may be The King of Chivito. It is $13, the size of two sandwiches, and comes with unannounced made-to-order fries. This is why I never order fries in a restaurant. You get a big supply even when you're not expecting them. Two people could easily split this, or if you are solo you could skip eating the next day.

There are tables inside as well as a counter to sit at.

Also, I saw a Cubano pass before my eyes on its way to another table. It looked knockout gorgeous. That will be my next sandwich.

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  1. I think this was reported on the TV somewhere. I saw the segment. The cuban was the touted sandwich. Looked like a good place.

    23 Replies
    1. re: Dennis S

      Yup, been hearing about this place for at least 4 months. I usually don't frequent the U Street area though, so haven't been yet. Not sure if it's worth the trip (for me, personally) for just sandwiches, but might be the next U Street joint I stop at if I ever find myself in the area around lunchtime.

      1. re: Dennis S

        I actually had half of their cubano. It was reheated (at home, not by them), so not a truly fair sampling, but it was still awfully good, enough so that I'm planning to pick up a fresh one soon.

        1. re: marcj

          Did it have chicharrones (pork cracklings) and roast pork? Was it toasted on a plancha? Do they have real pan cubano? Also, do they serve cafe cubano? I must know!

          1. re: flavrmeistr

            Where can I get a cubano with chicharrones?

            1. re: justaddwater

              That's what I'm trying to find out. The chicharrones are what distinguishes a true Cubano sandwich from a grilled ham and cheese sub. The pork must be soaked in mojo and roasted on the premises to get that great flavor. South Florida has them in abundance and maybe some enclaves in New Jersey (not sure about that). It would be great to find a place up here with the genuine item.

              1. re: flavrmeistr

                I have to say I have not heard of this before. I lived in Miami and still have family there, including Cuban in-laws. I have never been served a cubano with chicharrones. Are you sure?

                http://icuban.com/food/cuban_sandwich...

                1. re: Steve

                  I'm Cuban and never heard of the chicharrones on a sandwich though I am glad someone besides me understands the necessity of the mojo.

                  1. re: redfish62

                    Yeah, man. The cracklings from the outside of the roast pork, not the deep-fried chicharrones they sell on the street. Rey's Cafeteria in Hialeah. The Capri Diner in West Palm Beach. Even the Sedano's stores throw a little on their cubanos. Makes all the difference. My favorite sandwich is the pan con bistec-marinated steak w/grilled onions, LTM and potato sticks. Surely you've had one of these, no?

                    1. re: flavrmeistr

                      Cracklins are the skin, which I have never seen still attached to a pierna roasted for making a sandwich (or "sanweeche" if you want to use the proper term), it would need to be deep fried or would be soggy and tough. The idea of ground up cracklins as another filling on a cuban sandwich, though, is intriguing, I'm surprised it hasn't been tried.

                      For the interested, two cuban sandwiches on my "need to try" list (as well as the 'wiches identified in this thread by the OP) are the Floridano truck's cubano which looks great in their posted photos and the upcoming Sabora truck, which will have fritas in a slider package.

                      http://foodtruckfiesta.com/el-florida...

                      http://foodtruckfiesta.com/saborastre...

                      1. re: justaddwater

                        The next time you're in SoFlo, try one of those places I mentioned. I'll throw in one more, Havana at the corner of Forest Hill and Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach. It'll change your life.

                        1. re: flavrmeistr

                          I'm actually going to be in Coral Gables in a couple of weeks, but I usually don't venture too far from there when I go. I am going to hit Sergio's for their pan with bistec, I've put off trying this sandwich thinking it was probably a tough palomilla steak, but I do need to try something different. Did the fritas last time at El Rey, not impressed. I always go with plans to do something different and end up hitting the old reliable spots.

                          I did, though, have the best sandwich ever a few months ago at Versailles of all places, a churrasco sandwich. Chopped up churrasco with onions and cheese available at their bakery adjacent to the restaurant. Miami's version of the steak and cheese.

                          1. re: justaddwater

                            The best palomilla is at Esquisito a few blocks down from Versailles. Tender, delicious and huge. There is also tiny place at 3rd Ave. and 7th called La Reina that has a specialty of chicken breast fried with bacon that is just outstanding. I really miss Miami, especially when I'm chipping ice off my car. If you get over to Hialeah, try the Molino Ranch.

                            1. re: flavrmeistr

                              Thanks for your list. I'l l e down there at the end of April.

                              1. re: flavrmeistr

                                Exquisito was on my list a while back for lechon. I heard they had a good one. I've been going to La Rosa for their saturday special. It's usually my last big meal before heading back. I also need to go to Enriqueta's, never been.

                            2. re: flavrmeistr

                              I grew up a few blocks from where Havana is and still spend a lot of time there, really good food.

                              1. re: flavrmeistr

                                Havana really does have good pork, and is a must-visit on our annual trips to Palm Beach Shores. The lechon asado is to die for. And the cubano is good, although I'm still looking for one as good as they used to serve at Antonio's in the 600 block of D NW oh so long ago

                              2. re: justaddwater

                                Yeah, El Floridano has disappointed me twice now, and I'm not giving them another chance. Elements are good, but they always screw up a large element that takes the sandwich down many notches. I find they have excellent sauces, but sometimes the bread isn't good, and sometimes the meat just isn't tasty. Disappointing. I have not tried the cubano though, just some roast pork thing.

                                1. re: hamster

                                  I haven't had anything off this truck, always too many people in line, but the look of their Cuban is precisely what it should be.

                    2. re: flavrmeistr

                      It did not have chicharrones, but it did have roast pork. I can't answer any of your other questions because I haven't actually been in the space--I reheated half of my wife's sandwich at home.

                      Also, it's clear from this thread that you are far more a connoisseur of the Cuban than I, who am merely an appreciator. So I don't want to get your hopes too high. I just thought it was a really tasty sandwich, and particularly impressive for the sub-optimal conditions in which I ate it.

                      1. re: marcj

                        FWIW, I am also not an afficianado and so therefore call many "Cubanos" as "Dominicans". Including what we make at home.

                        1. re: Dennis S

                          I'm not necessarily an afficionado, just craving a sandwich experience that's probably 99.999% unavailable outside of South Florida. It's the same with Texas barbeque, Maryland crabcakes and New Haven pizza. Hope lies in that 1/1000th of a percent.

                          1. re: flavrmeistr

                            For the New Haven pie, have you by chance ever been to Crozet? I think next time I'm going South on 81 I'll convince my wife to take the detour. Joe H glowed bright on it for a while a few years back.

                            1. re: Dennis S

                              I've heard of it, but I don't get down there much. My favorite lately is Il Forno in Frederick. Crispy brick oven pie with good ingredients. It ain't Pepe's, but it's still pretty good.

                2. "The King of Baby Goats"? Awesome title! How was the sandwich?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: flavrmeistr

                    Very delicious. The Chivito is the most expensive sandwich, BTW. So it is possible to spend less, but it's not dirt cheap.

                      1. re: MikeR

                        That also includes R&R just South of Baltimore.

                  2. The "restaurant in a gas station" thing has been done. There is a place called "El Carajo" in Miami located in a BP station where you can pick up a gallon of anti-freeze and down some tapas and Riberas. I found out about the place watching public TV at 1am. The local station WPBT runs a restaurant review show called "Check, Please" where local common Joe (and Jane) Chowhounds talk about their finds. This was one of them.

                    http://www.checkpleasefl.com/reviews/...

                    1. Just went to try the cuban. I thought it was very good, clearly high quality ingredients. Lovely tender roast pork and lots of it, high quality mustard and cheese, lovely sandwich integrity with nothing falling apart or dripping, certainly two meals worth since it's also served with the thinnest fresh french fries. They were really nice guys behind the counter and my sandwich came out quick! They also make all their baked goods, from which I chose a gorgeous berry danish/scone'ish thing which I will sample later.

                      Very cool spot.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: hamster

                        Correction: it's an apple-berry galette. Not bad, not bad at all. I will probably try their other creations based on this.

                      2. Just got back from lunch. Lil woman and I split a chivito and a cubano (no, we didnt finish). The cubano was excellent and was only the second one I have had in two decades that I would order again. Great roast port (he roasts it for 7 hours after a long marinade), not sliced, a game killer for me, good ham, cheese pickles and a whole grain mustard. There was just one problem.

                        The chivito. It was so much better. So many amazing components, especially the olives and red peppers in vinegar and little button mushrooms. Did I mention the steak and bacon? Or the egg? This was an awesome sandwich. I couldn't order a cubano again there as sandwich to sandwich the chivito blows it out of the water even if it is one of the better cubanos I have had.

                        Fries were cold, but who cares about fries when there is that much sandwich to finish.

                        Great place. Great rec Steve, thanks.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: sekelmaan

                          I gotta get down there. Are they open on Sunday?

                          1. re: sekelmaan

                            I finally got here today for lunch; I've been chomping at the bit to go since reading this thread. We arrived early, around 11:15, so we had no problems with waiting in line or with ingredients being unavailable. I was surprised, pleasantly, by the looks of the place. I was expecting something much grittier. It's a pleasant little space, and has a number of tables. (My fears of take-away only and cash-only were not realized.)

                            There are a couple of parking spots out front, but walking here would be better for those who are able to do that.

                            sekelmaan's comments pretty much expressed my views on the food. I too shared the chivito and the cubano with a friend. I'm no expert on Cuban sandwiches. I've only had about 10 in my life, but one was in Miami and several were in Cuba. This is the best one I personally have ever had. The key component that flipped it from good to great for me was the roast pork, which sekelmaan described above.

                            But the chivito... wow. I really loved this sandwich, as did my friend, who wasn't crazy about the cubano ("too meaty"). "So many amazing components, especially the olives and red peppers in vinegar..." Both sandwiches were very fresh and hot. I do think though that $13 is pretty steep for the chivito. (The cubano is $8.50.)

                            Fries were served warm-ish, but thin and crunchy -- not bad, really. I am not crazy about fries to start with, so it was very easy for me to taste a couple of them to see how they were then leave them. I have a large appetite admittedly, but I had little trouble eating half a cubano and half a chivito.

                            And... they deliver! I live within their delivery range, so this is exciting news! They have an intriguing menu; lots of interesting items on it that will be very difficult for me to try, as that would mean forgoing what I already know I love. The guy working there said the chivito and cubano were their most popular offerings.

                            Fast Gourmet
                            202-448-9217
                            1400 W St. NW
                            WDC 20009

                          2. Went for lunch today around 2pm. There were about 15 tickets and over an hour wait. So it goes.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: sekelmaan

                              Yep. I went last night around 5 p.m. and they had ran out of the bread for chivitos. I had a very good Cubano instead (although I've not had many in the first place). I'll have to come back for an early lunch.

                              1. re: sekelmaan

                                Went for lunch today at 12:30p, was pretty sparse. Got the cubano, which was really tasty. It came with well-salted shoestring fries. Boss got the steak and cheese which he enjoyed. Gotta try more sandwiches. I hear the owner says he's trying to get enough business to run this place 24/7. That would be pretty awesome. We need more 24-hr places in the district! Come on, CHers, give Fast Gourmet a try.

                                Oh they also sell Boylan sodas, which are totally awesome.

                              2. Just to add to the feedback on Fast, I had a chivito today for lunch.

                                About a week ago, I posted that Wagshal's brisket on rye was my favorite sandwich in DC. I love that sandwich, and I'm sure I always will. But I think the chivito might be better. In fact, it might be the best sandwich I've ever had. It's certainly in the same league as fresh grilled blackened halibut at Pike Place Market, pastrami at Katz's, or Italian beef at Portillo's. Eat it now!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: marcj

                                  Blackened halibut--wow! Now I wanna go out back and blacken me some fish. Too bad it's 32 degrees and raining.

                                  1. re: flavrmeistr

                                    Yeah, if you're ever in Seattle, you MUST go to Market Grill. It's just an unassuming little lunch counter in PP Market manned by a couple of dudes listening to classic rock, but the blackened halibut (or salmon, but I prefer the halibut) sandwich and the seafood chowder are both phenomenal.

                                    1. re: marcj

                                      I'll do it. I usually can't get past the dry-smoked salmon stall at PP.

                                2. I won't repeat much of what's already been said. The Chivito is awesome as is the Cuban.

                                  But one sandwich that was delicious that may be off people's radar was the tuna. Instead of a tuna salad heavy with mayonnaise, the tuna is cut slices of yellowfin lightly dressed. It is an excellent sandwich and was recommended to us by the cashier/owner.

                                  A vegetarian friend gave rave reviews of the mushroom sandwich as well.

                                  1. Went today at noon. No wait, plenty of tables. Split the Chivito and Cubano with a friend. The Chivito is a magnificent sandwich -- the combination of the egg, olive, beef, and other ingredients was just perfect. I didn't think it was too big for one person to finish, but maybe I am a glutton. My friend pronounced it the best sandwich in DC, and I think it is right up there with the Pattison Avenue at Taylor Gourmet. Not as much love for the Cubano. The fries were thin, crispy, nicely seasoned - a nice bonus.

                                    -----
                                    Taylor Gourmet
                                    Washington, DC, Washington, DC

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: msr3017

                                      I went this past Saturday -- the day after a glowing little piece in the WaPo. showed up about 1:45. Chivito was outstanding. Took over 30 minutes to get my sandwich; the combination of the good notice plus allegedly one of three cooks out sick hurt them. They'll find their stride, I hope. I'll definitely be back.

                                    2. I've had dozens of very good cubanos (and medianoches) in Puerto Rico and the one at Fast Gourmet doesn't even rate., Not toasted (or flattened) enough; only one thin slice of ham and well cooked but very bland roast pork. The flatterning makes the bread crip on the outside, BTW...

                                      I suspect their cooks are not Cubans...

                                      And their bland flan is probably made from a mix...you can tell because there is no caramel...

                                      Look here to see what a well made cubano should look like http://icuban.com/food/cuban_sandwich...

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: donaldbabb

                                        I have to disagree with your assessment of a real cuban. Sliced pork like the one pictured in your link is dreadful on a cubano. Only slow roasted pulled pork, rich and fatty is acceptable. Now I haven't been to Cuba so I don't know which is the traditional or authentic way, but if they use sliced pork there, then I'll pass.

                                        1. re: donaldbabb

                                          I believe that the cook (and owners) are Uruguyan, not Cuban. Not sure that would matter so much though, as the Cubans you cite were made by Puerto Ricans.

                                          I must also say, the consensus seems to strongly disagree with you. I grew up in Florida, and must say that their Cuban is as tasty or more than many of the great ones I have had in Miami or Tampa.

                                        2. Just wanted to add that the Cubano might be every bit as good as the chivito. Out of this world great. Go with somebody, split two sandwiches, and you will have a food orgy.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Steve

                                            I've done that a couple of times... that is the ultimate way to go for sure. I've never had a better Cubano -- and it's a few dollars cheaper than the chivito. (The person I've gone with is normal and can only eat a half of one sandwich. For me, eating halves of two sandwiches isn't a problem!) I can easily leave the fries on the plate, though.

                                            1. re: woodleyparkhound

                                              I got them to swap out cole slaw for the fries, though he might have charged me the difference. It's too much food!!! After half a sandwich I can't believe there's more to go.

                                          2. We went today after reading something on seriouseats.com a while back. Ordered the chivito and the Cuban.

                                            One bite later, and I was all, "Ah sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you..."

                                            The chivito is a great sandwich. The meat components are great, but I really enjoyed the hits of green olive and egg and escabeche in individual bites. The Cubano is built on great, tasty pork. Even though I had my hands full, literally, with the chivito, I still took a number of healthy bites out of my companion's Cubano.

                                            I'm v. curious about other items on the menu, e.g., the Milanesa, which can be breaded shoe leather or a crunchy, juicy delight, but I think next time we go, I'll have to try these two again. Just to make sure my first impression was correct.

                                            I also liked the space (which, fortunately, wasn't full this Saturday lunch hour), including the bathroom, which is a lot nicer than your average filling station toilet.

                                            1. I just heard about this place and am planning on checking it out this weekend. The menu sounds incredible http://www.fast-gourmet.com/. But all of my friends who have been have gotten sandwiches with pork in them. I tend to not eat pork all that often so has anyone tried any of the non-pork items? Maybe the steak sandwich, BBQ chicken or fish? Curious about recommendations (including sides).

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: Elyssa

                                                The tuna sandwich is really really good. I would also recommend the Lamb Wrap. I've also been very pleased with the Milanesa.

                                                1. re: Elyssa

                                                  The chivito is the sandwich to get. Yes, I think it has bacon on it, but it is not a 'pork' sandwich. Just ask for it without bacon if you don't want it.

                                                  The tuna was dry when I had it. Even if it weren't dry, it's not as special as the chivito.

                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                    Great! Thanks. I eat bacon on sandwiches sometimes...but I could always ask for it to be left off and I'm sure it will still be delicious.

                                                    1. re: Elyssa

                                                      Sandwiches come with fries, but no problem to substitute as the fries are a bit of caloric overkill.

                                                  2. re: Elyssa

                                                    For sides, I've tried the lemon grass coleslaw, the sweet potato fries and the empanada. I thought the empanada was small, but excellent, the SPFries were so-so and I didn't taste any lemon grass in the cole slaw. I would only order the empanada again. The only sandwiches I've had are the legendary cubano / chivato (a few times each) and the hot dog, which was so-so.

                                                    The last time, we got delivery from there. The sandwiches definitely suffered from the delivery process. It's well worth it to eat there.

                                                  3. At a place that has one of the best sandwiches possible, could it be that it's not even their best menu item? The corn empanada is that good. Sensational, and ounce-for-ounce maybe the best thing they serve.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. Try the milanesa with some french fries. They must add fresh parsley and pressed garlic in their egg wash before dredging the cutlet. The flavor certainly withstood the frying. Ask for some fresh lemon wedges and a little ketchup. Timeless, simple and delicious.

                                                      If you're in the mood for something a bit more chaotic, try the milanesa napolitana (w/ red sauce, provolone cheese and ham.) While the added bells and whistles may detract from the preparation and overall integrity of the meat--sort of like a brick-oven, foie gras-lovers pizza--it's really good (albeit a bit more expensive).

                                                      My side salad came with seeded cucumbers, hearts of palm, chopped red onions and olives. This wasn't some cliche Greek salad with ornamental trinkets atop a bed of iceberg lettuce. It was thoughtful and well-executed. I can't remember the last time I paid less than $35 for a meal that included palm hearts in a side salad.

                                                      Clearly, there's an attention to detail that goes unnoticed by the average guy who walks into a Columbia Heights gas station looking for a decent lunch. But there's nothing under-the-radar about their taste. There's a lot going on behind that counter.

                                                      1. When Steve mentioned that this place is open till 5AM on Fridays and Saturdays, i knew I had to try it just as soon as I could, which was about an hour ago (and a few hours after we talked.) At 4 AM they were packed, and had sold out of empanadas. Since the chivito sounded like a excessive cacophony of weird flavors and textures, I had the cubano instead, substituting plantains for the fries. The plantains were unremarkable, though probably better than fries. The sandwich, while not as big as described here, was about right for the price--though I expect I'll find the chivito overpriced--and otherwise excellent, and it made me want to go back for the chivito as well as the milanese. Sadly I don't think I'll have time on this trip, but I don't think this place is going away anytime soon.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: KWagle

                                                          Just at at fast Gourmet on Saturday. Very good. The chivito was great, as were the batter dipped fried eggplant. Excellent find!!!

                                                          1. re: DCRandy

                                                            Took me long enough to get there, but I made it today. I had thought it was closer to Silver Spring, so when I figured out where it was actually located, it worked well with my plans for the afternoon.

                                                            Wanted the chivito, but it was only me so I got the cubano. Excellent sandwich. The pork and bread were stand-outs, and the cheese was perfect, imo, as well.

                                                            1. re: Dennis S

                                                              Not sure why you wouldn't get the Chivito because it was only you. I don't think it's that much more of a sandwich than the cubano. That being said, I actually prefer the cubano; the last few times I've had the chivito the roll has been burnt.

                                                              1. re: Dennis S

                                                                Yeah, the chivito was smaller than I expected. I think the cubano outshines it and is a much better value to boot.

                                                                1. re: hamster

                                                                  To both - check all the descriptions about it in this thread above. I trust what Steve says, and the cubano was still more than I could handle as one anyway.

                                                          2. I finally got to the Valero station and tried the Chivito and the Cubano. First, they use high-quality ingredients and I imagine other things on themenu are way above what you would expect. The Chivito was good for a steak sandwich, but then I think sanwiches are a poor use for steak. It could have used more olives and a fried egg rahter than sliced hard-boiled eggs. The Cubano was disappointing, as have all Cubanos in the DC area since Antonios closed so many years ago. No one uses enough mojo on the pork.
                                                            That said, either is a good sandwich and the Chivito is probably a great sandwich to have after drinking too much.

                                                            1. I finally swore off this place once and for all after my latest burnt, bland cubano. When it first opened I visited regualrly, once a week, but the quality slowly went downhill. I waited 20 minutes for soup once with no one else in the store. Another time waited 30 minutes, finally when I asked when my order of a chivito and cubano would be up, it turned out they never even started on my order, which took another 20 minutes. On top of the bad service, I hadn't had a properly cooked sandwich in in a year or two.

                                                              When someone asks about good snadwich places around town, Fats Gourmet still gets mentioned, but I wonder how many of these people have actually eaten here lately, and are just recommending off past glory. Am I the sole person getting this experience?

                                                              7 Replies
                                                              1. re: BrandonWarn

                                                                I want to say the chefs who were part of Fast Gourmet in the glory days are now slinging food at Takeateasy. Maybe try the cubano and chivito there.

                                                                1. re: TheMatt

                                                                  Take Eat Easy on 1900 block of M St., NW The original owners are no longer associated with Fast Gourmet, hence the downhill slide. It is now a full-fledged restaurant where the sandwiches are just a part of the menu, and I think prices have gone up.

                                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                                    Such sad news. I was just TODAY talking to some Boston cronies about the killer chivitos in DC.

                                                                    1. re: sekelmaan

                                                                      Just a different location, so not that sad.

                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                        Sad that it's not open late. I guess I should go there and try the chivito, I only had the Cubano at FG.

                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                          It's a bit sad for me because Fast Gourmet is pretty close. I haven't been there since the change in the cooks, so I'm disappointed to hear about the decline in quality. I still may go late at night some time just to see if it still works as drunk fuel.

                                                                  2. re: BrandonWarn

                                                                    Thank God it's not just me. I used to love their Cubano, but it had gotten worse over the years and I wondered the reason. Thank God I'm not going crazy. I live close and this makes me sad also because now it's just a gas station with food. The inside isn't as lively as it once was either.