On a recent California road trip with my son to look at colleges, we had some great El Salvadoran food (especially the Pupusas and Tamals) in Santa Margarita. We were still craving these when we returned home to SD. So after searching around I found El Salvadoreno in Logan Heights, and boy what a find it was! It was much better than what we had on our road trip. I’ve decided that I am in love with this place.
From the outside the joint didn’t look like much (bars on the windows like everywhere else in the neighborhood), but the inside, though definitely nothing fancy, was clean and rustic with an open kitchen and welcoming staff (though their English is pretty limited – luckily I speak passable Spanish). The raw wood on the walls and the paintings of El Salvador gave the place a nice homey feel. Bathrooms were also very clean which I always consider a very good indicator.
I ordered a variety of pupusas, pastels, tamales, and their Carne Guisada. The Pupusas smothered in their homemade sauce is da bomb! I could bathe in that sauce and they have a bunch of different stuffings. The tamals are really tasty, especially the Tamal en Hoja de Platano. The massa is super moist and almost like a fluffy pudding. The pasteles are as good as any empanada I have had. Crisp flakey tender exterior with a moist flavorful stuffing. The queso and pollo were the favorites. The Guisada was moist and flavorful and my wife loved the sauce and potatoes. Everybody else there (predominantly latinos) really seemed to be enjoying their food and one old guy with a big bowl of soup told me their sopas and especially their Sopa de Mondongo (tripe and cows feet stew) was the ultimate cure for what ails you (hang over). Definitely will have to try that along with their Mariscada (seafood soup similar to Siete Mares), Also, their whole fried Red Snapper, Huachinango Frito, looked amazing. The Platano Relleno stuffed with beef was another item that caught my eye.
I did observe something there that had me literally clamping my hand over my mouth just to keep from laughing aloud. Two guys, obviously a relatively affluent couple, were having brunch and just raving about the food to each other and alternatively talking about what wines would go with it. They excitedly flagged the waiter/cashier over to their table and proceeded to ask him how much the corkage fee was. Oh my, this was true comedy! Firstly his English was very limited, and secondly this is not the kind of place where they would serve or even understand wine. So these two guys trying to explain to him what corkage actually was and that they had a special bottle of wine that they wanted to bring with them was very humorous indeed. The waiter looked slightly annoyed completely perplexed by all of this. To him I think all he could get was that they wanted to bring in their own alcohol (cheap bastards?). I think it actually ticked him off that these guys were asking to bring in their own alcohol, because I finally heard him say quite forcefully, “No! No possible, no ask again!” The couple looked wounded and like they wanted to argue for a second, but then just resigned themselves to a depressed “okay”.
If you want good fresh Latin American comfort food, this is your place. If you want a decent wine list, then look somewhere else or get take-out. But definitely do not ask about a corkage fee!
I am interested to hear any hounds feedback on El Salvadoreno and also if I'm missing any other great Latin American restaurants? For instance who makes great Arepas? Empanadas? Papa Rellenos?