Another long post copy and pasted from my site. Short story is that it was my first time having Salvadaron food, and I liked it at this homey, family-owned restaurant in Mountain View: El Calderon.
On the hunt for some chowish food this past Saturday, J suggests going to this family owned hole-in-the-wall Salvadoran restaurant in Mountain View: El Calderon (also conveniently located on Calderon St.). Glancing at their menu online, I spy menudo under their soup section so I quickly acquiesce and drive over.
The restaurant is easy to find, off of Hwy 85, El Camino Real North exit, then turning right on Calderon. It is located in a strip mall next to a cleaners and liquor store, and the restaurant seemed pretty busy on a Saturday night. Upon entering the walls next to the entrance are covered with letters and photos of friends and family. Some photos are of a smiling newly married couple, some of happy mothers and some of deceased fathers.
A motherly Woman who is the hostess and waitress and presumably the co-owner, waves us towards some empty tables and says, "Have a seat. Pick any table!" She smiles widely.
The menus are already on the table and she drops off a small tub of tortilla chips and a few minutes later drops of a cup of the dipping sauce. I already know that I want to try their menudo, a savory soup of chilis, tripe and hominy. I've loved tripe since having it at dimsum as a child and always look forward to tasting different preparations. For the rest, we decided to get their special Salvadoran dinner for two ($25.95) which included coffee/drinks, several Central American staples and dessert.
J seems doubtful that menudo could be that good, particularly the tripe, referring when one time we had dimsum at LoonWah and I essentially ate the whole plate of tripe we ordered. I assure her that menudo would be good, and if she didn't like it, I would be sure to finish the soup myself. "You better stop filling up on those chips then, " she says nodding towards the second tub of chips the Woman had dropped off a few moments earlier.
The Woman approaches the table again and brings two small wooden bowls of iced drinks with straws, a different one for each of us. Mine is a brown concoction with a main ingredient of tamarind. J's is almond based. I sip both of them and prefer mine, tasting like those red, circular "haw flakes" that sell in Chinese markets for 79c a bundle. J likes her's better. "Yours has a bit of sour taste on the finish,"
As we are discussing the similarity of my drink to "haw flakes" the Woman comes back and drops off a small bowl of guacamole. I dutifully dip a chip and taste the fresh avacadoes. I don't each much of it though as the menudo arrives in a large plate. A small dish of condiments is served alongside the menudo containing diced onions, dried oregano, and a lemon slice. A jovial man, presumably the other owner, stops by and advises me to try the menudo with all the condiments. "Delicious!" he seems genuinely excited. I take his advice and find the soup to take on extra dimensions: the chewy tripe, the bite of the onions, the aroma of oregano, and just a little acidity from the lemon juice to tie everything together. I spoon a bit of the menudo into a smaller bowl they provided, for J to try and she even seems surprised by how much she enjoyed it. A choice of flour or corn tortilla allows us to sop up every drop of soup.
The next dish is a pupusa, their house specialty. Their pupusa is a fresh homemade tortilla stuffed with any combination of cheese, pork, and beans served with a side of curtido (pickled cabbage). The Woman advises us to cut open the tortilla and stuff the curtido inside and eat it that way. Everything is piping hot, including the plate, and tastes like a very fresh, ingredient filled quesadilla.
"I like the menudo better," J says.
Next comes of the platanos fritos (sliced fried bananas) over refried beans. This dish is very good, with the soft, sweet bananas balancing nicely with the beans.
We're not done yet, with the yucca con chicharonnes arriving next. This dish is Yucca root salad with pork chunks and pickled cabbage. This one isn't bad, but we both agree that the pupusa and menudo are better.
We end the meal with a dessert which looks like tortilla chips drizzled with a butter, cinnamon, sugar sauce. It looks strange, but it works. I see the Woman and the Man, softly bickering next to an empty table, and glance at the photos and trinkets adorning the walls. The food is comforting, the environment like a living room of a large family, and I like it. We'll be back.