I read a review of this restaurant in the Mountain View Voice (local MV free weekly paper) and knew I had to try it. Why the Mountain View paper would be publishing a review of a Redwood City restaurant is beyond me, but being a sucker for El Salvadorean food, it didn't matter to me.
Tu Casa Salvadorena is in downtown Redwood City at 909 Main Street. It's fairly new, opening in July, I think. You'll know you're in the right place when you find the restaurant decorated in El Salvadorean flags and maps. The place is quite clean and pleasant, with probably 20 tables and booths to choose from. Orders are taken at the counter in the back, or I believe you can order your food at the table.
For my first visit, I had the "Sabor Salvadoreno Plate", which is pretty much a combination of many of the other items on the menu. At $11.99, this is a splendid way to get a sampling of many dishes and an easy way to see if you like what the restaurant has to offer. The plate contains: 2 pupusas, 1 Salvadorian-style enchilada, fried yucca, 1 beef pastel, mixed rice and beans, and a plaintain empanada. The pupusas you may select from their list of pupusas (stuffed with combinations of beans, cheese, pork, and loroco [an El Salvadorian vegetable]). If you don't choose, you'll get whatever they happen to put on the plate. I've found them all to be very good, so I've given up specifying them. The Salvadorian-style enchilada is interesting. It's a crisp disc topped with its filling (meat, potatoes, vegetables, and hard-boiled egg), rather than the traditional Mexican rolled tortilla. The fried yucca reminds me of slightly chewy french fries and fairly bland. Served with the yucca are a couple of chunks of fried pork that are nicely salted and help to liven up the yucca. The pastel is sort of like one of the deep fried pastries you might get in a dim sum lunch, except the filling is El Salvadorian instead. Also quite nice. Served on the plate is a small red cabbage salad and on the side curtido (El Salvadorian cole slaw, I suppose you could call it) is provided to put into your pupusas. A mild orange-colored sauce is also provided for the pupusas, but I didn't find it to be all that lively. Finally, the empanada is plaintain paste stuffed inside a dough which is deep-fried. Like a malasada, I would say. The waitress (I've not seen any men working in the restaurant in three visits) brings sugar and indicates that you should pour it over the empanada, which is not otherwise very sweet.
Well, as I said, this is a great way to get an introduction to the restaurant. The menu also has individual pupusas available, the turkey sandwich that must be traditional (Sabor Salvadoreno in Santa Clara also has this on the menu), combination plates (not your Mexican combos), rellenos (more about those below), traditional plates, soups, tamales, and a few Mexican offerings.
On each visit, I've ordered the licuado zapote. Zapote is the fruit of an evergreen tree that also produces the chicle for chewing gum, apparently. Whatever it is, this drink is spectacular. It reminds me something of a pumpkin pie in glass, being similarly spiced, but the drink also includes crunchy bits of ground seeds (I'm guessing -- you really can't see through the purplish color of the zapote). The licuado zapote is not on the menu, but is listed on a board next to the counter. Definitely worth a try!
On my second visit, I dragged Andrew along (dragged may not be the right word, since he was a willing victim :-) ) to try out the place. I ordered the Sabor Salvadorean Plate again and supplemented it with two of the tamales: Pisque and Chipilin con Queso. I'm not sure what either of the fillings really is (ignoring the queso part of the the second tamale). Pisque seems to be a purplish bean paste which not only stuffed the tamale but was also mixed into the masa, giving it lavender hue. The Chipilin (may be the yellow-ochre flowers a Central American tree) filling was green with a strip of white cheese (like Monterey Jack) down the middle. Like the pisque, the chipilin was also mixed in the masa, giving this tamale a pale green color. Both were modestly flavored but interesting if only for their rarity.
My third visit, I sort of overindulged in order to provide more information for Peninsula Chowhounds. I ordered a Huisquil con Queso Relleno as my main course. Huisquil appears to be another name for chayote, and what I got was something akin to a part of a squash, hollowed out, stuffed with cheese and bell peppers, batter-dipped and deep fried. I liked this a lot, and it provides a nice alternative to the traditional chiles rellenos (also on the menu). I had tried to order the Lomo relleno (listed only as beef), but this was not available, so I don't know what that would have been like. Served with my meal were a cabbage salad, rice & beans, and what appeared to be a potato salad with a magenta (think Crayola's fluorescent pack) dressing. Could there have been beets in there somewhere to add that color? Outside of certain Japanese pickles and some ice creams, I've never eaten food with such a vibrant color. I also had a pork tamale, which wasn't strong on the pork, but had bell peppers and potatoes in abundance. For dessert, I ordered the chilate with nuegados (substitutable for bunuelos) and plaintains in "honey". I say "honey" in quotes, because the word in Spanish is miel, I took French. The resulting dishes (this is a two part dessert) did seem to be honeyed but rather carameled. Anyhow, the chilate is a bland, white broth with spice berries floating in it. The nuegados were like deep-fried rounds of a batter that was both crunchy (from more ground seeds?) and crispy. The plaintains were, needless to say, sauteed relatives of the common banana. The nuegados and plaintains were served in a thin caramel syrup. I think if I had not eaten so much up to that point (servings at Tu Casa Salvardorena are epic), I would have enjoyed it more. Probably the fact that the waitress refilled my very thick zapote didn't help in the stomach capacity deparment either. As it was, the dessert was delicious but not finished.
Of the few El Salvadorean restaurants I've tried, I think this one is my favorite. Everything was served freshly made, the choices are many, and the staff friendly. Oh yeah, the staff. They don't speak English. There's a bit of English on the menu (huisquil is translated as vegetable). However, just a little Spanish skills or lots of enthusiasm will carry the day.
PS Apologies if I rambled, lost coherency, or made spelling/grammar mistakes. It's Friday evening and my brain is (deep-) fried. :-)