in an American-friendly, spotlessly clean café with parking. For as little as $1.50 you can get a satisfying, filling, delicious lunch.
Here was the order, IMO, of the best to worst pupusas in the Bay Area from last summers pupusa crawl:
Rincon Lation (tie -corn pupusa)
El Zocolo (tie - rice pupusa)
El Zocolo - corn pupusa
Los Planes de Renderos in SF
La Pechangueria taco truck (yuck)
However, Kaliente so outclasses all of the above. It is the perfect pupusa AND you can order extra filling. The extra cheese pupusa was a wonder of meltingly good cheese.
The hand made pupusas come in both rice and corn shells. Most important in a pupusa, they are served hot off the grill the outsides nicely charred. The rice and corn were equally good. The shell had a nice little crunch to it, excellent. I ordered double cheese and the shell stood up to the extra filling. What a great idea. I also ordered the bean/cheese.
The curtido or slaw that came with it had a nice balance of oregano, cabbage and carrot. It was the perfect texture, not overly squeaky crisp. The red sauce, which in some places is like the liquid in canned tomatoes, was the best Ive had. It was not watery or too thick.
Unless your are really hungry, one pupusa should be enough, especially if you get extra filling. There are eight differnt fillings - the most selection in the Bay Area.
All the appetizers I tried were the best of their kind that Ive sampled in Salvadorian restaurants.
The EMPANADAS DE LECHE were two fat little fried dumplings made of tasty plantain enclosing a custard center and were crisp on the outside and tender inside.
The first time I had a PASTELITO (corn masa dumplings stuffed with shredded pork, potatoes, peas and carrots) was at Los Guanacos. This is a highly under reported Salvadorian snack. It was wonderful at Los Guanacos, but, again, Kaliente is much better. The one at El Zarape was leaden. I havent tried them, but there are also pineapple paselitos in the display case. Ill try these in the future for a breakfast pastry. The sweet variety looked more like baked turnovers.
The chips at Kaliente are thin and they have a great green salsa.
They also have the best version of CHILATE CON DULCE (Yucca Masa fritters fried and served with syrup and chunks of plantains) This dish is served with a hollowed out gourd of atole (a typical Salvadorian hot beverage extracted from allspice, ginger, and masa).
I would say if you are new to Salvadorian food, it is an acquired taste. However this is the first time I saw the possibilities in this dish. Think of it as Salvadorian pancakes with bananas. Two pancake like yucca fritters are on a plate with chunks of fried plantains. There is a little syrup on the dish. After a bite of the sweet syrup/plantain, you take a sip of the atole to cut the sweetness. However, I didnt find the Chilate overly sweet. Salvadorian atole is different than sweet corn Mexican atole. To tell you the truth, most Salvadorian atole tastes like dishwater with spices. However, I gained a new appreciation once I learned how to eat this dish.
The disappointment was in the entrée I had one night - COSTILLA FRITA ENTOMATADA (Spare ribs prepared with onions, tomatoes & green peppers). The veggies were only fair and the ribs, three small, grisly ribs, tasted stale. In the East Bay Express link below, the reviewer mentions the entrees are not the Kalientes strong point. However, to tell you the truth, I have never had a Salvadorian entrée that Ive been pleased with.
I wasnt in the mood for beans / rice, so I asked them to substitute plantanos which they did. My experience was different from the East Bay Express. Hot from the kitchen they were excellent and pleasantly sweet. As they cooled, they became a little greasier.
The entrees come with a green salad which is little more than crispy chopped romaine lettuce with bottled Italian dressing. However, it seems they have Cilantro Vinaigrette, so I will as for that instead next time.
I have had some great soup lately, so I wasnt interested. However a Latino family feasting on huge bowls of SOPA DE PATAS, served with four bowls of condiments, made me put the soup on my list in the future.
They have three Salvadorian beers. I had the Regia which was nice. Im not a beer aficionado, so most beer is fine to me. They have some tropical sodas like tropi champan, described as bubble gum flavored, fresta (strawberry) and Uai (grape).
I didnt try the desserts which included flan, rice pudding and strawberry shortcake.
This place has a steady local business of people dropping in for take out and some people staying for dinner.
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I might try the following Salvadorian breakfast in the future:
EL GUANACO - two eggs, chorizo, casamiento, (blend of white rice and black beans)and one piece of queso duro viejo (hard cheese). Picture below.
Other than that, Kaliente serves pretty standard American breakfast dishes.
For lunch, I will try in the future:
PAN CON PAVO - Salvadorian turkey sandwich served on a French roll with lettuce, gravy, curtido, tomato, and cucumber.
YUCCA CON CHICHARRON O FRITADA - Yucca root prepared fried or steamed & served with pork rinds or pork menudo, sprinkled with curtido and spicy salsa. The server said to get the fried because it had a nice crispy exterior and a fluffy interior.
KALIENTE TROPICAL SALAD - Shrimp, papaya, mango, coconut, and cashews served on a bed of romaine lettuce. Served with a delicious home made Cilantro Vinaigrette dress-ing on the side.
The link to Kaliente has their menu. They also have Mexican and American sandwiches and dinners. There were a lot of people ordering Mexican take out.
For the last few weeks Ive been experiencing some sort of food serendipity. It seems I have only walked into great little hole in the wall type places. I have eaten deliciously with most of my lunches and dinners averaging about $3.
Some of the food was new to me. So all I could say is that it tasted delicious to me and I didnt know if it was the best of its kind. Even though I have never been to El Salvador, I have eaten a lot of Salvadorian food in the past year. So, based on that, I think that Kaliente is best of its kind in this area.
I got this tip from Ruth Lafler. When I saw the lukewarm East Bay Express review, I wasnt expecting much. I didnt even plan on eating there. I only was going to note the location for future reference. It was a fortunate thing I was tired and decided to have dinner at Kaliente. Thanks Ruth.
3803 San Pablo Dam Road
El Sobrante, CA 94803
Tuesday - Friday 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Saturday - Sunday 8:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Link to East Bay Express review