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Casa Blanca Washington, D.C. The bland starchiness of boiled yucca has never been a favorite of mine. But with one forkful of the habanero chili-studded ceviche at Casa Blanca in Washington, D.C., I realized boiled yucca’s true calling as a fire extinguisher. Casa Blanca is a neighborhood joint that happens to have a McPherson Square address. That’s lucky for downtown workers sick of the salad bar palaces choking the landscape like too many croutons. As neighborhood joints go, Casa Blanca is top drawer. Add to that the relative dearth of Peruvian food in Washington and you’ve got yourself a real gem. The utensils are flimsy plastic and the plates are Styrofoam, but the portions are hearty, the service friendly and fast, and most of this little restaurant’s uniformly inexpensive offerings quite tasty. A recent lunch special was chicharr�n with yucca, salad, and rice for a mere $4.95. Often, chicharr�n is just the pork skin fried until it puffs up and looks like a honeycomb inside. And too often, the chicharr�n you find in Washington arrives hard and tasting only of salt. Not here. Casa Blanca carves up meaty chunks of pork and twice fries them until they’re juicy and tender on the inside, sinfully crispy on the outside. Try it with a tall tamarind drink. That ceviche is also a winner — what with its firm codfish and shrimp cold-cooked in lime juice, onions, peppers, and the aforementioned chilies. It’s an excellent light lunch option for summer’s hot sticky days. Less exciting, but still decent, are the tacos, burritos, and enchiladas that arrive on big platters with more than enough rice, beans, and gooey melted cheese. Better, though, are the tamales or the pollo � la Mexicana, shredded chicken in spicy sauce with rice and beans. A pork or chicken tamale with its side salad is just the right size for a small lunch. And it will set you back only $3.25. The house salad is big — too big to eat in addition to the ceviche, even. It’s a big pile of iceberg lettuce with all kinds of goodies on top: peppers, onions, tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, radishes, and cheese. The growing ubiquity of iceberg lettuce salads in downtown eateries is alarming indeed, but in a down-home place like Casa Blanca, it feels just fine. Casa Blanca offers the usual assortment of dressings, but try the house topping, a mixture of finely chopped tomatoes, onions, chilies, and lime juice. At $5.95, though, the arroz con pollo was merely fair. While the generous mound of green, flavorful rice was quite good, the small portion of chicken was overcooked and, oddly, seemed like an afterthought. If you’re really hungry, go for one of the Peruvian-style steak dishes. It’s not Sam & Harry’s, true, but on the other hand, Casa Blanca’s thin-pounded steaks are well-seasoned, well-cooked, and cost less than $10 each. And at Sam & Harry’s can you get a protein supplement of two fried eggs on the side of your steak? I don’t think so. For dessert last week, I was encouraged to try a slice of candy-topped cake, but the alfajores were calling to me. It was on one of my first dates that I was introduced to these cookie treats at a long-shuttered Adams Morgan coffee shop. They’re the Peruvian Oreo: dulce de leche — that gorgeous concoction of sweetened, thickened milk — sandwiched between two slightly anise-flavored cookies. You’ll probably be too full to enjoy them right after lunch. But do take some alfajores back to the office to share. Restaurant: Casa Blanca Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Location: 1014 Vermont Ave., N.W. Phone: (202) 393-4430

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