But Monica Pulecio and Andres Londoño have manipulated traditional pandebono dough into another form, too: The proprietors of La Poteria Local have shaped it into a waffle, like the kind you’d find at your neighborhood IHOP. You can even order one topped with blueberries, strawberries, dulce de leche and a big fluffy dollop of whipped cream, as if you were customizing a bite at the weekend waffle station at a Boca Raton hotel.
Underneath the fruits and confections, you might not immediately detect the Colombian elements of your pan de waffle con berries, but they’re there: You sense them in the texture of the waffle, whose crisp exterior gives way to an exquisite chewiness. Just as important, you realize, gradually with each successive forkful, that your waffle with berries is not a sugar bomb — that your dimpled base is more savory bread than sweetened and griddled batter. You might even suspect that, deep within the recesses of your cassava-and-corn-flour waffle, someone has concealed a cache of salty cheese.
This jigsaw puzzle of influences is one of the many charms of La Poteria Local, a Colombian cafe that’s custom-built for suburban Marylanders, like me, who have never dined in Bogotá, or anywhere else in the country, and probably won’t anytime soon. It’s Colombian street food — one step removed, occasionally augmented with other ingredients and ideas, and executed with care by a pair of Bogotá natives who, like so many immigrants before them, came to America to discover their love of cooking.
Pulecio and Londoño met and married in the Washington area, even though they grew up just five minutes from each other in Colombia’s capital. Pulecio came to the United States because, as she told me, she “didn’t have enough money to eat” back home. At first, she cleaned houses and worked as a nanny. Londoño moved north to work for the Pan American Health Organization. Their paths crossed at a party back in 2009, and they’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since.
The couple launched a food trailer in 2015 and dubbed it La Pote-Ria. The name is an inside joke to those who know Pulecio and Londoño: Pote is Londoño’s nickname, which I guess makes him the face of the business even though its logo is a totes-adorbs silhouette of a food trailer. The couple still operates two mobile trailers every day at Clarksburg Premium Outlets, where the menu is limited but distinguished from its bricks-and-mortar counterpart in one vital way: All the empanadas are made with masa, not puff pastry, lending the stuffed pockets a different heft, aroma and flavor than those available at La Poteria Local.
La Pote-Ria thrived, even during the pandemic, and the couple decided they should make the jump to a storefront in September 2021, when they opened La Poteria Local. They started selling just empanadas (puff-pastry versions: braided, buttery, rustic and ready to flake into 100 little pieces) and coffee, in a nod to the cafes of their hometown. “You walk around and you’re going to find a place with coffee and empanadas,” Pulecio told me. “It’s like our McDonald’s.”
La Poteria Local gradually started expanding its menu, adding pandebono, palitos de queso, buñuelos, arepa toast, perros caliente, pan de waffles and tropical fruit smoothies, some items more traditional to the streets of Bogotá than others. The owners worked with their Connecticut-based vendor to create versions of these dishes that suited their tastes; every two weeks, someone with the company — clearly the person who draws the shortest cheese stick — must trek north to gather more inventory for the carts and storefront. Few things, other than the coffee drinks brewed from superb Pergamino beans shipped fresh from Colombia, are prepared from scratch in the kitchen.
As much as I like the pan de waffle — especially the waffle slices that serve as bread for the ham-and-cheese sanguchito, a sandwich with a mochi-like chew — I love the standard pandebono buns even more. Squat, pale and translucent at the edges, where you can see the guava-jelly filling almost aching to burst from its confinement, the pandebono buns play both sides against each other, never fully committing to either the sweet or savory elements. It’s a tension, and a delight.
The perro caliente, or Colombia-style hot dog, dials up this tension even more. As you’d expect, there are multiple ways to dress a Colombian dog, but La Poteria Local’s version plays up the pineapple sauce, a condiment that supplements the fruit’s natural sweetness with added sugar. Interlocking lines of pineapple sauce, garlic mayo and mayo-ketchup slither across the surface of the all-beef dog, adding their own commentary to the dish, but the essential conflict is between the savory link and the sweet pineapple sauce, the front lines shifting with each bite. The battle is also internal, at least for me: You either embrace this candied dog, or you don’t. I embraced it in the moment — you know, love the one you’re with — but I’m not sure I’d adopt it full time.
La Poteria Local’s arepa toast is one of those mash-ups that I should have seen coming from 1,000 miles away, a merger of Colombian tradition with avocado toast, an age-old dish that gained celebrity status when Gwyneth Paltrow and everyone else grasped its inherent beauty on the socials. When confronted with arepa toast at the table, I wasn’t sure exactly how to attack it. It’s an arepa that identifies as pizza: The thin, griddled corn-flour base is slathered with mashed avocados, sprinkled with grated cheese and shredded hard-boiled eggs, then finished with chipotle mayo and pico de gallo. The first time I ordered the dish, I tried to eat it with plastic cutlery. It was an exercise in delayed gratification, as I attempted to saw through the arepa with inadequate tools.
The second time I ordered arepa toast, an employee suggested I eat it with my hands. I don’t want to oversell this shift, but I saw the dish in a new light. Not only was the arepa toast easy to devour, but eating with your hands adds another sensual pleasure to the meal: As you lift the loaded arepa to your mouth, your fingers come in contact with the rough, pebbly surface of the flatbread. The tactile experience generates something close to ASMR tingles. As I alternated between arepa toast and soursop smoothie, the past and present commingling in ways I could barely catalogue, I felt a contentment rush over me, a momentary easing of worry and stress.
It’s a moment that we all search for in restaurants, and I had found it — at Pote’s place.
19116 Montgomery Village Ave., Montgomery Village, Md.; 240-477-6636; lapoterialocal.com.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Prices: $2.50 to $10.50 for all items on the menu, except family packs and bags of coffee.