El Torogoz: Come for the chicken, stay for the pasta

El Torogoz owner David Ventura opened the restaurant in 2000.

Here's the next edition of the Petworth News Restaurant Spotlight.

by Yuliya Panfil

Everyone knows El Torogoz, located at 4231 9th Street NW, is Petworth’s go-to-spot for Pollo a la Brasa. No? You should. The restaurant even sports a big sign on its roof, advertising the juicy, spit-roasted chicken served with spicy green and yellow sauce that’s become so popular in the District.

But did you know this Salvadorian joint also serves killer pasta?

 “One of our specialties is Italian dishes,” says owner David Ventura, who grew up in El Salvador but spent time cooking at Italian restaurants around DC before opening El Torogoz in 2000. “People who order the pasta here, love it. It’s what I do best.”

Since opening almost two decades ago, El Torogoz has become a neighborhood mainstay, catering to “both the Hispanics and the Americans,” as manager Coralia Ventura puts it. On nice summer days, entire families settle in for dinner al fresco at the metal tables in front of the restaurant. In the afternoons, construction workers kick back a quick meal, and high school kids swing by to grab carry-out on their way home. In the evenings, the restaurant turns into a bar, serving margarita specials and hosting karaoke until late into the night.

“We’ve been here 17 years, serving people, bringing our dishes to the neighborhood,” David says. “It’s very important to us because this is a diverse community. We’ve made a lot of friends here.”

El Torogoz serves a range of Salvadorian and Italian food, but specializes in three things: Pollo a la Brasa, pupusas, and pasta.

The Pollo a la Brasa is made fresh daily, seasoned with garlic, cumin, salt and pepper, spit roasted for 90 minutes, and served by the quarter, half, or whole chicken with two sides. Though Pollo a la Brasa is marketed in the United States as Peruvian, David explained that actually it is popular throughout Latin America.

El Torogoz on a dreary winter day. In nicer weather, the outside area is filled with chairs and tables.

The pupusas, thick, savory corn cakes native to El Salvador, are filling and affordable, coming in at less than $2 per portion. "Customers can choose between four different fillings: cheese, cheese and beans, cheese and loroco, and pork and cheese," Coralia says.

But the pasta is what really gets David going; it’s clearly his favorite dish, and since you wouldn’t expect a Salvadorian spot to have solid pasta, I suspect he doesn’t make it as often as he’d like. His recommendation: the spaghetti with salmon and mushrooms, served in a cream sauce.

El Torogoz first opened in 2000 as a take-out spot; in fact, there’s still a small remnant of a take-out window just to the right of the restaurant. Then, in 2004, the space next door to the takeout counter – where El Torogoz now stands – came up for rent. David decided to take a chance, and in 2005 the restaurant opened its doors for sit-down dining.  

“Back when we opened, there was nothing here,” laughs Coralia. “Just us and [since-closed] Domku. But it was an opportunity since there were no other places around. And we’ve stayed.”

El Torogoz manager Coralia Ventura (right) poses with an El Torogoz waitress.

Coralia says El Torogoz has become so enmeshed in the fabric of the community that everyone feels like a neighbor. People come by to eat, for take-out, for water, or just to borrow a fork or a cup.

“I know the people around here, I’m friendly with them,” she says. “We’re open seven days a week, and everyone is welcome.”

El Torogoz
4231 9th Street NW
Mon - Fri: 11 am - 10 pm
Sat - Sun: 11 am - 3 am