Lately I have found myself more and more attracted to Guatemalan, Colombian, Peruvian, Ecuadorian and Salvadorian restaurants. I feel like their food is fresher, their meat leaner, their salads crisper and their drinks stronger. But the attraction often leads to a long haul to far-away neighborhoods. For some reason, the best joints seem to be out the outskirts of the city, and Restaurante el Salvador is no different.
Located on a charming little stretch of Archer Avenue in Brighton Park, this cafeteria-looking Salvadoran restaurant—and its pupusas—have me hooked. But what really gets me is its ground beef taco. Sure, sure, it's on the Mexican side of the menu, but I'm always blown away by the warm, thick, homemade tortilla that encases some of the juiciest bits of ground beef I've ever sampled. The fat tacos, loaded with lettuce, tomato, onion and sour cream, literally make my heart stop. I eat them so quickly, I've never even had the chance to take a picture.
Topping even that simple taco is the quesadilla. Not the standard cheese quesadilla, this baby is a perfect handful of snack cake made with real parmesan cheese. Like a mix between cornbread and pound cake, it's dense, buttery and topped with sesame seeds, the perfect accompaniment to a cup of hot chocolate (which the restaurant sporadically serves).
Staying in the sweet vein, it fries delicious empanadas de leche, donuts filled with slightly sweet condensed milk that roll out piping hot and three to an order ($2.50). The restaurant tricks you into thinking they're made from dough, but they're really deep-fried plantains sprinkled in coarse sugar.
On the more wholesome side, there's el Salvador's twist of a turkey sandwich. Served on soft French bread, the massive sandwich comes packed with moist turkey smothered in a light tomato sauce. And let's not forget the combo platter. It's not even the delicious banana-leaf wrapped tamale I rave over (though I do love the super-tender, still-on-the-bone meat inside). Nope, it's the tiny chunks of deep fried yucca; they're like Long John Silver fat cracklings, Salvadoran-style, and just as addictive.
Even el Salvador's simple dish of sweet plantains with sour cream and beans is something to behold. The plantains are perfectly fried, the sour cream is icy cold and beans just damn good.
What is it that the folks from Central America know that we don't? I can't even tell you how many times I've had a horrible meal at an American restaurant and I can count on one hand the times that I've had a sub-par meal at an ethnic one. That's the plan for 2006, then. Keep rockin' the tiny, family-owned, you-know-it's-all-homemade joints and leave the rest of 'em back in '05.
The Final Rave: Even its homemade horchata (rice water) is incredible. It's perfectly creamy, not too sweet and just cinnamony enough.
Keep It Going:
Read it: Carnivale
The menu at this wildly-decorated restaurant takes you all across the Americas with stops in Peru, El Salvador, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Puerto Rico, among others. Is that a bit much? You be the judge.
Drink it: Flor de Cana
Ever since I tried this rum in Nicaragua, no other rum seems to compare. I must learn more about the word moderation, though. Spell it: M-O-D-E-R-A-T-I-O-N. Good girl.
Eat it: La Sierra
This Ravenswood Ecuadorian restaurant has three things going for it: great food, cheap prices and a location directly across the street from Angel Food Bakery. Yeah, baby!
Get crazy with it: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico I was just checking into airfares last night and apparently, you can be in the mountains of Mexico, whipping up mole and drinking margaritas for a mere $300 bones. Done and done.