In the heart of Navy Yard, you can get a taste of Puerto Rico with a stop at La Famosa.
Mofongo is one of the traditional Puerto Rican dishes that you can find on the menu.
“The dish we all think is probably from West Africa and was introduced to Puerto Rico, you know, through colonialism,” said owner and chef Joancarlo Parkhurst. “Puerto Rico is really unique in the sense that we have Taíno, which is the indigenous indigenous culture, the African culture, and then obviously the European culture. This dish represents a bit of everything.”
Mofongo is made with mashed fried plantains, then mashed with garlic mojo and fried chicharrones (crispy pork skin). Chicken broth is also served on the side to add some moisture to the mofongo.
“Mofongo is pretty much a neutral base for just about anything and everything,” Parkhurst said.
La Famosa serves shrimp mofongo, crispy pork belly or vegetarian picadillo.
Parkhurst says 80% of La Famosa’s staple recipes come from her experiences with her grandmother in Puerto Rico, but that’s not traditional either.
“Every Puerto Rican cook, every grandmother, every mother, every father who cooks, they all have their own version …” he said. “Every now and then I’ll run into someone who says to me, ‘This doesn’t’ taste like my grandmother, but it’s really good. ‘ I say to myself, it’s good, and that’s the point, right? This is what we are trying to do.
Parkhurst was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, and moved to New York City with his mother from an early age. The rest of his family stayed in Puerto Rico, so he visited her for almost three months a year. Parkhurt says he spent a lot of time with his grandmother in Puerto Rico and that she was an amazing cook.
“Some of my fondest memories are just cooking in this kitchen,” he said.
These memories are the reason Parkhurst left law school.
“I was almost disowned,” Parkhurst said. “And although the idea was for me to be a doctor or a lawyer, I just took all of these life lessons and went in a whole different direction.”
This direction led Parkhurst to Bethesda; he was transferred while working for Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
“I’ve lived here for almost 20 years and still look for a bit of home and still struggle, and there are some beautiful places that do a great job of Puerto Rican cuisine, but not as accessible,” Parkhurst said.
That’s why he and his business partner decided there was a need or a market for La Famosa.
“My cooking isn’t necessarily meant for the diaspora only,” Parkhurst said. “It’s really kind of like to introduce people to what cocina criolla is, which is the cuisine of Puerto Rico.”