Joancarlo Parkhurst
Joancarlo Parkhurst Credit: Laura Hayes

We have Puerto Rico to thank for one of the world’s most irresistible, gut-busting sandwiches. As the name implies, a tripleta has three key ingredients. “It’s beef, pork, and then pork again for redundancy,” explains Joancarlo Parkhurst, who is gearing up to open La Famosa in Navy Yard in the spring.

To make one, he griddles skirt steak, pernil (slow-roasted pork), and deli ham, and then chops the meat, using a similar technique as a cheesesteak cook. Then he loads the meat mixture, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, aioli, and crispy potato sticks into a long Puerto Rican roll called pan de agua. 

Just don’t confuse it with a Cuban sandwich. One thing Parkhurst is setting out to prove at his restaurant coming to 1300 4th St. SE inside a new condo complex, The Bower, is that Puerto Rican food “can stand on its own at the end of the day.” 

“D.C. has huge Central American influence with a sprinkling of Dominican and Cuban,” he says. “I think that the food of Central American, the Caribbean, and Latin food in general has been kind of mashed up together. Once in a while I’ll describe to people what I want to do and they’ll say, ‘It’s kind of like a Cuban spot.’ Well no, it’s not.”

La Famosa is a fast-fine restaurant that will serve all-day coffee, lunch, and dinner. The service model—which is growing in popularity as labor costs are rising and patrons are looking for quick, convenient meals that don’t sacrifice quality—calls for diners to order at a counter and wait for food to be dropped off at their tables or be packaged to-go. The bar will offer drinks that lean heavily on fresh juices and rum such as smashes, sours, and piña coladas.

Puerto Ricans aren’t afraid of the fryer, especially when it comes time to party. Look for sorullitos de maiz (corn fritters), chillo frito (deep-fried snapper), a lasagna-like sweet plantain dish layered with picadillo (ground beef), and chuleta kan-kan (an impressive cut of pork—worthy of a Google image search—with loin, rib, and belly fat). La Famosa will also serve mofongo. Parkhurst can’t say the name without deepening his already deep voice. It consists of mashed fried plantains.

There will also be pastries like mallorcas and guava pastelitos, which Parkhurst hopes will accompany coffee sourced from Puerto Rico. He says Hurricane Maria devastated coffee production there, but he still aims to bring over as many beans as possible to support growers. 

Parkhurst was born in Puerto Rico in a suburb of San Juan and moved to New York when he was 5. Growing up he would visit his grandmother in Puerto Rico during every spring break, Christmas break, and summer. That’s where he learned how to make many of the dishes that will grace the menu at La Famosa. His grandmother, now in her 90s, is still alive and cooking by feel since she can no longer see.

“My most vivid memories I have of being there are food related,” he says. “Those memories propelled this idea, this desire to want to do something very humble and that’s representative of the Puerto Rican food I grew up eating.” That said, the chef will take some creative license. “The food at La Famosa should be recognizable if you’ve had Puerto Rican food, but it’s not going to be strictly traditional. It’ll be an evolution of what that cuisine is.”

The restaurant is named after a canning company Parkhurst’s great-grandfather started in Puerto Rico in the 1920s. La Famosa canned tropical juices, nectars, and cream of coconut. His family sold the company in the 70s.

“My step-grandmother passed away recently,” Parkhurst says. “I was in the apartment going through stuff. We have original framed art of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother with the La Famoso logo behind them. I’m going to bring it up from Puerto Rico. It’ll be in the restaurant somewhere.” GrizForm Design Architects is designing the roughly 60-seat restaurant and 58-seat patio. 

This is Parkhurst’s second restaurant in the D.C. area. He was behind Lina’s Diner and Bar in Silver Spring, which made it a year and a half in the former Piratz Tavern space. It closed in November 2018. His resume includes a mix of front-of-house and kitchen experience. For an extended period of time he helped Ruth’s Chris Steak House better its training center in Bethesda and open 14 locations around the U.S. and as far as Dubai. Parkhurst also worked for several restaurant groups in New York City. 

“I don’t pretend to be what I’m not,” Parkhurst says. “I’m not a classically trained chef—I consider myself a cook. The title chef should be reserved for the Éric Riperts. People that have a level of artistry and skill that’s beyond many of us. That doesn’t limit you from being able to put out humble, really tasty food that’s representative of your passion.” 

La Famosa, 1300 4th St. SE