My son Andrew and I are working on increasing the number of reviews of South Bay eating establishments (although we love coming to the City to try out the places that I learn about here). To that end, we've been to Sabor Salvadoreno (with a tilde over the 'n') in Santa Clara. This restaurant used to be a pizza parlor as one can tell from the pizza oven which still sits in the kitchen section unused.
This is is a mixed El Salvadorean/Mexican restaurant, although the El Salvadorean side makes a greater showing than it does at, say, Taqueria La Bamba in Mountain View. El Salvadorean specialties include pupusas, fried yuca, pan con pavo (turkey sandwich?!?), tamales, and empanadas.
We tried several of the pupusas (cheese, pork, and con loroco -- a Salvadorean vegetable). The pupusas are freshly made -- you can watch them being formed and filled to order, and then grilled. We liked the cheese ones the best, with pork coming in second. Loroco seems to be a very bland vegetable, adding little to the pupusa. We were puzzled by what the attraction could be outside of the fact that it is a Salvadorean vegetable.
Since Andrew and I are both carnitas fans, we ordered a taco with carnitas from the Mexican side of the menu. Andrew really liked the taco, but I was disappointed. I found the carnitas to be lacking in flavor and essentially having a single texture. By comparison, my gold standard, carnitas at Taqueria La Bamba (but only on a good day -- they're not always what the used to be), have good flavor (with enough salt to stand out) and a crispy exterior with a tender interior. Sabor's didn't do anything for me.
We followed this up with an order of tamales de elote con crema (corn tamales with cream). The cream is essentially sour cream, served on the side. The corn must have been just the masa itself, because I don't recall much in the way of kernels of corn or other fillings in the tamales. These tamales struck me as odd, because they cost so much more than chicken tamales with green pepper and potato (which we didn't try) -- $5.95 vs. $4.50. I would have thought that the chicken tamales would be the more expensive.
On the first Saturday that we visited we did have the opportunity to try "shuco", which was described as a hot Salvadorean drink. This isn't regularly on the menu and was listed on a sheet of paper taped to the smoke hood over the grill, no explanation or translation given. The shuco was served in a dried, half-gourd bowl. The color is roughly that of light colored poi and the flavor was similar, although it is much more liquid than poi. Atop this floated a tangy green layer of some other unknown liquid that contrasted nicely with the blander "poi" drink. Although I prefer tamarindo (which we also drank), this was worth trying.
Finally, we finished off with an order of empanadas filled with cream (also available filled with beans). The empanadas were again made to order -- you could sit at your table and watch the cook hand-form the shell (casing? what would you call it?) and then stuff it. These were deep fried in oil (more about that oil later) and served piping hot. Andrew and I both enjoyed the empanadas, although we learned that patience was in order before we could finish them.
On another visit, we tried out the yuca con chicharon. The yuca is available boiled or fried. We opted for fried. That was our first mistake. The yuca was fried in the same oil that was used to fry the empanadas. In fact, we suspected that the oil was used to fry a whole bunch of things, because the yuca came to us tasting of burned bits in the oil (although the yuca itself was not burned). In addition, the yuca was quite dry after its oil bath. Our second mistake was simply ordering this dish. It's served on a bed of cabbage with crispy pork and a tomato salsa. The salsa was not fresh -- they pulled it out of the refrigerator and slopped in on the cabbage. It lived up to its name, being a completely one-dimensional preparation that went only slightly beyond chopped, wilted tomatoes with the texture of long refrigeration. The pork was tough and chewy, fried beyond the point of no return. All right, to cut it short, neither one of us recommends this particular dish.
Other items on the menu which we did not try include pan con pavo (translated on the menu board as a turkey sandwich), burritos, and quesadillas. The meat choices are carne asada, barbacoa, the aforementioned carnitas, chicharon, and pollo en salsa verde.
Service the first Saturday we went was abysmally slow, although cheerful and pleasant. It took us well over 90 minutes to get our food served, even though this is a taqueria-type environment. Other patrons who came in after us (much after us) got some of the same things we ordered delivered to their tables while we waited and waited and waited. Fortunately, we weren't in a rush that day....
Bottom line: good but not great Salvadorean cuisine in the South Bay, friendly but slow service.
2045 White Oak Lane (off Lawrence Expressway and Poinciana)
Santa Clara, CA 95051