Restau­rant Re­view

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Molly Boyle

Res­tau­rante El Sal­vadoreño

I know a guy whose car­di­nal rule for din­ing out is to avoid restau­rants at­tached to mo­tels. Some­where along the way, one trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence per­ma­nently soured him on the con­ve­nient, mid­cen­tury-mod­ern no­tion of eat­ing next door to where peo­ple sleep.

I main­tain that he’s miss­ing out. These days, mo­tels tend to lease their café spa­ces, so it’s not al­ways one op­er­a­tion run­ning two busi­nesses (one rea­son he cites for avoid­ing such places), and the guar­an­teed steady trickle of a trav­el­ing clien­tele can shore up a restau­rant in its early days. These busi­nesses are of­ten owned by hard­work­ing fam­i­lies who have learned to cater to the de­mands of picky, tired tourists. And in the man­ner of any place that can be con­sid­ered a “hole in the wall,” a mo­tel-ad­ja­cent eatery just might of­fer sur­pris­ingly great cui­sine for a good value.

To en­ter Res­tau­rante El Sal­vadoreño, sit­u­ated next to the Days Inn on Cer­ril­los Road, is to pass into a world of Sal­vado­ran pride, a slightly scruffy rec-room-style space burst­ing with col­or­ful flags, wall hang­ings, ham­mocks, and pic­tures that cel­e­brate the tiny Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tion. The TV is tuned to Univi­sion, Span­ish music is play­ing, and there are am­ple clean ta­bles avail­able, along with a kind and ef­fi­cient wait­staff. The restau­rant is rarely very crowded, so it’s pos­si­ble to linger over its unique fare while watch­ing the na­tion’s

La Selecta play some se­ri­ous fút­bol. The menu fea­tures 17 va­ri­eties of pu­pusas, gen­er­ous com­bi­na­tion plates of surf and turf (to­gether or sep­a­rate), soups, tamales, some egg-cen­tric break­fast op­tions, tor­tas, aguas fres­cas, fresh-squeezed juices, milk­shakes, and ham­burg­ers and hot dogs for the more un­ad­ven­tur­ous trav­eler. We browsed the pu­pusa sec­tion, or­der­ing one each of the cal­abac­i­tas (zuc­chini and cheese), re­vuelta (beans, cheese, and pork), chile verde (green chile and cheese), and chicken. These were de­liv­ered in a slip-slid­ing heap to the ta­ble, along­side a punch-col­ored dish of cur­tido (the pick­led cab­bage salad Sal­vadoreños pair with pu­pusas), and a watery tomato salsa. The grid­dled pu­pusas are well formed and not greasy, though their contents were hit or miss. The shaved zuc­chini was gummy and the pork in the re­vuelta too bland and paste­like, but we loved the pi­quant chile verde with its gooey strings of cheese, and the chicken was sa­vory. The cur­tido and salsa helped kick up the fla­vor, but only a lit­tle — I would have wel­comed a spicier condi­ment for these corn cakes.

Along­side the pu­pusas, my com­pan­ion en­joyed a syrupy, nutty hor­chata, and I sipped a frothy pineap­ple agua fresca that was just the right amount of sweet. The chicken tamale, wrapped in a ba­nana leaf, fea­tured moist, oily masa, along with a gen­er­ous por­tion of chicken, green olives, ca­pers, and yucca root. Sal­vado­rans tend to use more oil in their masa and of­ten in­cor­po­rate tor­tilla flour rather than tamale flour; though I’m not sure how this tamale was pre­pared, the fla­vors were novel, if not en­tirely to my lik­ing. I found the masa and the chicken too greasy, but en­joyed the hearty chunks of yucca and the un­ex­pected green brine of the olives and ca­pers.

On a lunchtime visit, we shared the steak ranchero, a gi­gan­tic plate of glis­ten­ing steak strips, thick-cut onions, and green pep­pers swim­ming in a mildly spicy red sauce and ac­com­pa­nied by rice, beans, a small salad of ice­berg let­tuce and tomato, and heavy masa tor­tillas. The steak was chewy but tasty, the fluffy rice made a good ve­hi­cle for the saucy veg­eta­bles, and the meal was enough for two with left­overs.

To en­ter Res­tau­rante El Sal­vadoreño is to pass into a world of Sal­vado­ran pride, a slightly scruffy rec-room-style space burst­ing with col­or­ful flags, wall hang­ings, ham­mocks, and pic­tures that cel­e­brate the tiny Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tion.

We also split an or­der of the fried plan­tains, which ar­rived ac­com­pa­nied by more of the creami­est, most heav­enly re­fried beans around (thank you, lard). The plan­tains, too, were ex­cel­lent: hot, per­fectly browned, sport­ing crispy fried edges that crack­led, and then melted sweetly in our mouths. I’ll be back to for­tify my­self with another or­der next time I brave Cer­ril­los traf­fic.

We got a sweet, some­what flo­ral agua de tamarindo to go and cruised up the road, con­tem­plat­ing all the idio­syn­cratic fac­tors that fig­ure into a per­son’s choice of where to eat at any given time. My friend’s rule may make sense for him, but a trip to Res­tau­rante El Sal­vadoreño is a clear in­di­ca­tor that some­times, it pays to walk into a mod­est mo­tel café.

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