Melanie Wong | Jul 16, 200204:18 AM     11

While I struck out on my donut lead on Tennessee Street, that hunt led me to two restaurants specializing in pupusas. The first one was Latino’s which is the new name (not on the signage yet) for an existing pupuseria purchased three months ago by the new owners. The wife is from Nicaragua, the husband from Argentina, and his parents are from El Salvador. They offer a pan-Latin menu with special dishes from each country featured on the weekends.

The interior is very clean and bright with peach walls, ceramic tile floors, and new tables and chairs. A wall hanging depicts woman wrapping tamales and cooking pupusas over a wood fire. This was a pleasant lunch stop.

The pupusa revuelta ($1.49) was made to order and filled with a mix of shredded pork, cheese, and beans. Tender crisp on the outside with a wonderfully creamy cornmeal interior, this was thicker and more substantial than I’ve had elsewhere. The cabbage for the curtido was cut in very fine long shreds, which were overly soft, but had a more complex flavor of oregano and gentle heat.

I also got a nacatamale nicaraguense ($3.00) to take home. The owner had said that one of these in the morning with a cup of coffee would last me all day. He was right – I didn’t need lunch that day. The masa was a coarser grain than usual for this style, with a soft texture and some broth in the seasoning. It was filled with a big chunk of potato, couple tomato slices, black olive (watch out for the pit!), perfumed leafy herb (can’t remember the name), chunk of roast pork, adobo-marinated beef cubes, a core of seasoned rice, and capers. A very good example.

The second place, Mercy is a much more basic, predominantly a take-out counter, but seating is also available. Linoleum black and white tile and dinged chairs and tables are clean but scuffed up. Also, there’s no air conditioning and can be uncomfortably warm in the heat of summer. Both Mexican and Salvadoreña snacks are offered. Pupusas are the specialty with 11 kinds available and cooked to order (minimum order of 2).

A couple of pupusas – one revuelta ($1.20) and one queso con loroco ($1.30) – were the first taste test here. Eaten on site, these are slightly smaller in diameter and thinner than Latino’s. The revuelta had a mix of shredded pork and cheese. The corn-based crust was a very thin and crisp shell with a chewier body. This was the second time I’ve tried loroco, and I’m still not getting the attraction. The curtido garnish had good texture (softened but still crisp), but lacked spice and zip. The two accompanying hot sauces were delicious, especially the green chile verde.

The next time I bought a variety of things from the take-out list to reheat at home over a few meals. These included -

Empanada, $1.10 – The other items were pulled from the refrigerator case and sold cold to-go, but I noticed the foil packet holding this was warm. I decided to eat it in the car while it was hot, and discovered that instead of a savory pastry-crusted turnover I was expecting, this was a delicious sweet. A milky white custard oozed between two squishy slices of oily plantain dusted with rice flour and fried. Aromatic and ooey-gooey good – a wonderful new taste sensation.

Pastelito, $1.10 – This was a deep-fried turnover with a cornmeal crust encasing minced beef and potatoes. Rustic and filling.

Jalapeño chile con queso tamale, $1.00 – Soft yellow cornmeal masa stuffed with salty melted mild white cheese and strips of roasted jalapeño wrapped in corn husks. Packs a kick.

Kernel corn tamale, $1.20 – This was a sweet tamale made of coarse ground yellow masa and whole corn kernels and wrapped in corn husks. The kernels were fibrous and tough. Not recommended.

Puerco tamale, $1.25 – Central American style wrapped in a banana leaf, this was made from overly salty and very fine soft white cornmeal and stuffed with a green olive, potato, garbanzo, tender braised pork chunks, and a little sauce.

Latino’s [Solano County]
(formerly Pupuseria & Restaurante El Salvador)
1220 Monterey St. (at Tennessee)
9am-7pm daily

Pupuseria y Taqueria Mercy [Solano County]
333 Tennessee St.
Tu-Th, 11am to 8pm
Fri-Sun, 11am to 9pm

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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