Pupuseria Y Restaurant Salvadoreño
You’d be insane to pass up the plantain
By Jennifer Wohletz
The real fun started after I finished my meal and paid my check. I had an excellent meal at Burque’s lone Salvadoran restaurant, located right off the intersection of Bridge and Goff. The service was great, the food was awesome but, boy, did I get some noteworthy tidbits on my way out the door.
As I rolled my fat belly toward the counter (I was so stuffed my gut felt like a basketball), I reintroduced myself as the Alibi's restaurant critic to Eddie Aguilar, the restaurant's co-owner. I could sense the relief that my admission had inspired in him, since taking notes throughout a meal can make observant proprietors confuse me for the health department.
We had a famous chat about everything from a prospective dessert case to house passels of Salvadoran pastries to the lively tapestries lining the walls (brightly colored scenes of plump women and children surrounded by bushels of corn, bananas and rice).
“Those are actually towels,” said Aguilar.
The entire space is decorated with various imported knickknacks, and Eddie even produced a beautiful book about El Salvador that I thumbed through while we yakked. But I had an agenda. I wanted to know the secrets of their house caldo de camarón (shrimp soup) which I hadn’t actually ordered, only due to my recent bad luck with soups at other restaurants. Aguilar had a hard time describing the salient details of the soup, but he had an easy time telling me the recipes are all from his mother, co-owner Ruth Aguilar, and that the restaurant workers are under confidentiality contracts to make sure the recipes don’t get out.
I was already stuffed from lunch, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a proffered portion of a soup so good it needed a contract. Ruth herself brought it out, and she seemed so friendly and sweet that I cursed the fact that I took French instead of Spanish in school, thus barring me from conversing with either her or sister Antonia, the third co-owner. The soup spoke the international language of badass, though. The sunny-colored broth was rich with tomato, bell peppers, celery, a hint of crema (a Central and South American dairy product similar to sour cream) and several other savory flavors I couldn’t quite peg. It was also crammed full of huge, pink shrimp and fresh cilantro leaves.
My next treat was, as Eddie described, a common regional snack food called plátano frito con crema y frijoles. It was fried sweet plantain strips with dueling sides of crema and refried beans, which the lucky diner stirs together and then dips the plantain into. I was weirded out by the idea of combining sweet stuff with beans, but as I did the dipping, Eddie pointed out that the flavors complemented each other. They did. It was a powerful but simplistic triumvirate of earthy beans, sweet plantain and tangy crema. But those plantains really needed no dippy sauce; they were so sugary and had a tropical fruit essence all by themselves. I kept asking him what they did to them to make them taste like that, but he only grinned at me and refused to admit they did anything special. I did not believe him. I still don’t.
The meal preceding all this consisted of the yuca frita o sancoechada (fried yucca smothered with shredded garnish and chicharrones, $4.75), pollo asado (baked chicken in a cream sauce smothered with fried onions, $7.50), a pupusa de queso (cheese-filled soft corn tortilla, $2.25) and a unique soft drink. This soda was called Tropi Champan. Eddie mentioned it's an imported Salvadoran soda, similar in popularity to Coke in the U.S. It tasted like a mildly fruity, very sweet cream soda, and was a credit to glucose products everywhere.
I wasn’t wild about the yuca. It seemed unremarkable as a whole lotta fried starch—enough for a football team—and the shredded cabbage garnish was dry. Its side of spiced tomato sauce was nice and the chicharrones were tasty and salty, but the combination of all those flavors and textures on the same plate was rather odd and off-putting. The chicken, on the other hand, was lovely. It was cooked to fall apart with a rich, crema-doused sauce and tender rice to soak it up. But the star of this square dance was the pupusa. It was a savory pastry of thick, supple white corn tortilla that melded into a filling of warm, melted white cheese. The pupusa was served with an interesting garnish of pickled cabbage, shredded carrots, tiny diced beets, oregano and hot peppers.
Pupusas are to Salvadorans what hamburgers are to Americans. This also accounts for the restaurant name. As Eddie explained, pizzerias serve pizza, so pupuserias serve pupusas. The light bulb above my head lit up.
My only other minor gripe was a lack of English subtitles on the menu, but Eddie's on it already. He also has plans to expand the menu in the near future to include another Salvadoran specialty, sopa de patas. That's soup made from cows’ feet. He told me each bowl would contain a hoof, and I wondered whether he was joking, and if finding a hoof was the prize for finishing the bowl.
I was still munching plantain when I forced myself out the door to stop from eating more. I will eat here again. I will bring others to eat here, too. If I’m on death row soon for tearing tags off of my mattresses, I will order my last pupusa from here, Tropi Champan and all.
The Alibi Recommends:
Pupusa de queso (savory corn pastry with cheese filling), or pupusa with any other filling
Caldo de camarón (shrimp soup)
Plátano frito con crema y frijoles (fried plantain with crema and beans)
Pollo asado (chicken in a cream sauce with fried onions)
Pupuseria Y Restaurant Salvadoreño, 1701 Bridge SW, 243-8194. Hours: Tue-Thu and Sun 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri and Sat 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Mon. Price range: Inexpensive. No smoking, credit cards accepted, patio under construction.
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