As the chef and owner of the successful Rockville restaurant La Brasa, specializing in dishes from all over Latin America since 2006, Lucy Campos decided it was time to expand with a fast-casual version. She and her children, David Campos and Tatiana Morales, opened La Brasita in the former Greatest American Hot Dogs space in Derwood’s Red Mill shopping center last June. The trio signed the deal in February 2019. “We liked the neighborhood, the traffic from Muncaster [Mill Road], that it was an updated shopping center with a McDonald’s, a CVS and a corner space with lots of light,” says Lucy Campos, 58. David, 27, runs the front of the house. Tatiana, 35, designed it. The 1,250-square-foot space seats 30 inside and 20 outside at full capacity.
La Brasita’s clean, modern look utilizes the natural light from its windows and showcases the family’s Salvadoran roots. Morales hand-painted part of El Salvador’s Tazumal ruins in bold blue, pink and orange hues on one wall, and a turquoise-plumed torogoz, El Salvador’s national bird, on another. Reproductions of Mayan statues are on display, acquired on Lucy Campos’ spice-buying trips to El Salvador.
Funding issues delayed La Brasita’s planned November 2019 opening for several months. Once they were ready, COVID arrived. When they opened on June 30 and Montgomery County was at 50% capacity, they were good to go, literally. “Our business plan always had a takeout component, a grab-and-go tacos, pupusas and a drink-and-be-on-your-way place,” David Campos says.
La Brasita’s menu includes ceviche, guacamole with tortilla chips, pupusas (stuffed and griddled Salvadoran corn cakes), quesadillas, chimichangas, burritos, tacos, fajitas, and specialties such as masitas de puerco (fried braised pork cubes) and chicken tamales.
My three tacos, one with shrimp and pickled red onions, one with carne asada (beef) and one with salmon, are each rife with their protein, plus a surfeit of chopped cilantro, radishes and onions. They come on yellow corn tortillas made in-house and with lime wedges and two homemade sauces, one with tomatillos and avocadoes, and one chile pepper-based.
Not surprisingly, given the family’s Salvadoran heritage, La Brasita’s pupusas, served with cabbage slaw, are superlative. David Campos is partial to the Maryland pupusa, stuffed with crab, mozzarella and Old Bay seasoning, which he created as a nod to his dual Maryland and Salvadoran roots.