Based on the 2010 U.S. Census, Bolivians are the largest immigrant group residing in Alexandria, Virginia from South America. Bolivian immigrants total 1,227 in the City of Alexandria, comprising 0.9% of the total Hispanic or Latino population. With their increasing numbers, Bolivian immigrants are making their mark in Northern Virginia in dance, music, and especially food.
Chart courtesy of 2010 Census Summary File, “Hispanic or Latino by Type: 2010,” U.S. Census Bureau
There are around 20 Bolivian restaurants in Northern Virginia, ranging from Springfield to Sterling. Several Bolivian restaurants are clustered in Alexandria or just across the city border in Arlington County. Some restaurants with the highest ratings on Google reviews are Sibarita Retaurant in Arlington, Pan American Bakery in Alexandria, and La Caraqueña in Falls Church.
Map of Bolivian restaurants in Northern Virginia
Interestingly, very few of these restaurants advertise that they serve Bolivian food. Of all the restaurants listed on the map above, only 3 include the word “Bolivian” in the name. An article in the Washington Post claims that this is because Americans are not familiar or comfortable trying Bolivian food and restaurant owners want to make their businesses as popular with as many possible customers as possible. Orlando Murillo, a Bolivian immigrant who owned Tutto Bene in Arlington, which has since closed, served pasta and wine during on the weekdays, but on the weekends they served their most prized Bolivian dish: salteñas, which are comparable to the popular Central American empanadas. In fact, Tutto Bene was selling about 3,000 salteñas per week in 2001. Murillo said that “this place goes crazy on the weekends…Americans ask: what is going on?”
Tutto Bene: Arlington, VA, photo courtesy of ARLnow.
In order to get Americans interested in a Bolivian restaurant, most owners serve more than just salteñas and sonso (similar to mashed potatoes). Murillo claimed: “We have to be realistic, the Bolivian food is not that well know in the American community.”
Owners often serve American food in addition to their traditional Bolivian dishes to make these establishments more accessible. According to the Washington Post: “The weekend salteña tradition is another measure of an immigrant community known for its success in adapting to the United States while maintaining strong homeland ties.”
: U.S. Census Bureau, “Hispanic or Latino by Type: 2010,” 2010 U.S. Census.
: Douglas Hanks III, “The Saltena Circuit: If you want this Bolivian Meat Turnover, You Have to Know Where to Look,” Washington Post, April 25, 2001, accessed November 10, 2016, LexisNexis Academic.