On my way to another restaurant, I stumbled onto El Salvador Restaurant on East Jefferson Boulevard. I circled around to check it out - and I'm so glad I did. I knew nothing of Salvadoran cuisine, but quickly became eager to taste and learn.
Upon entering the restaurant, you can envision you are in El Salvador. Framed pictures of tropical scenes adorn the walls. The blue-and-white banding on the walls is a nod to the Salvadoran flag.
Complimentary tortilla chips and salsa were brought to our table immediately. The red and green chips and the salsa are a Hispanic restaurant staple but offered no hint of the taste bud treats to come.
Pupusas – corn tortillas stuffed with meat or vegetables - are typical of Salvadoran cuisine. For an appetizer my dining partner ordered the Ayote con Quezo Rioas pupusa. It resembled a fat pancake and was filled with zucchini squash, cheese, onions and tomatoes. She noted that the corn tortilla was lightly grilled and had a smooth texture – not grainy like others she had in the past. The pupusa was piping hot and when she cut into it, a rainbow of vegetables and cheese oozed out.
I ordered the Yuka Frita con Chicharron (fried yuca with fried pork). The fried Yuka, served with a sweet dipping sauce, was lightly battered and crispy. It wasn't at all greasy. I thought it was going to taste like a French fry, but when I bit into it had a slightly bitter taste. Coupled with the sweet dipping sauce, it's a perfect marriage of flavors. I couldn't stop eating it. The fried pork was very hot, juicy and lightly seasoned.
Both of our appetizers came with Salvadoran coleslaw. The coleslaw was sweet and crunchy. Extra ingredients included torn cilantro leaves, lime juice and chopped jalapenos for a little heat. This was a refreshing complement to the appetizers.
A lot of times the drinks (non-alcoholic) at a restaurant aren't anything special, but the drinks at El Salvador were. I ordered a papaya liquado (smoothie). It was very creamy with lots of papaya blended in. My friend's drink, Fresco de Ensalada de Fruta (fresh fruit salad), was a dark maroon liquid filled with diced apples. I'm ordering this next time!
I chose the Camarones a la Plancha (grilled shrimp with rice and salad) as my entrée. The aroma of the onions and green peppers preceded the arrival of the dish to our table. I spritzed some lime juice on the smoky shrimp and seasoned rice, which heightened their flavors. The portions of rice and salad were generous.
My friend ordered the Carne Asada (steak) burrito special. It came with rice, beans and a drink. The burrito was giant, so big she needed a knife and fork to eat it. She said the steak was “cooked to perfection” and it gave the whole burrito a great flavor with no heavy seasoning. Avocado, lettuce, cream and rice rounded out the rest of the burrito.
For dessert I chose the Platano Frito con Crema (fried plantain with cream). The smell of cinnamon was heavenly. The caramelized plantain was very hot and was sliced open and filled with a thick custard-like cream. A sprinkling of cinnamon topped the dessert. It was easy to use a fork to scoop out the flesh of the fruit. The Quesadilla Salvadorena dessert (Salvadoran sweet quesadilla) my friend chose looked like moist pound cake. It had a cream cheese taste and was garnished with sesame seeds on top.
Both desserts were not overly sweet but satisfied our sweet tooth.
The high-quality ingredients and freshly prepared dishes were a theme from our drinks to the dessert at El Salvador. The portions were hearty and reasonable. Our server was attentive and was helpful in steering us on our food selections. I tasted and learned, and I definitely want to go back.