Comfort food

Pulling into the parking lot at the rear of the El Salvador Restaurant, I am seduced by the intense, savory aromas coming from the kitchen. “I don’t know what that is,” I tell my husband. “But I want some!”

Once inside, we sidle into a booth and check out the décor. Two televisions, one on each end of the dining room, broadcast a comedy show in Spanish. My own Spanish is spotty, so I only get the more visual jokes. I’m not really a fan of televisions in restaurants, because I can watch TV at home, but there it is. The rest of the room is plastered with El Salvador travel posters and a bizarre row of vases filled with dried and silk flowers. Several families with children color the air with rambunctious energy.

The family sitting next to us is well into their meal, and it smells heavenly. The mix of El Salvadoran and Mexican cuisines present subtle differences, but it all looks good. I cannot see into the kitchen, but in my mind’s eye it is filled with plump and jovial El Salvadoran grandmas.

The kids at the next table are eating pupusas, a type of fried dough filled with pork and cheese and rounded like a stuffed pancake. They are devouring them with obvious relish. One of the boys belches loudly, and when a parent admonishes him, he exclaims in English, “It was just a burp! I just ate my pupusas too fast!” Promptly after finishing his meal, he gets crabby for a few minutes, then curls up on the seat of the booth and drops off to sleep.

The menu is laid out in Spanish, with English translations on the side.

Even with the translations, it is best to know your Central American culinary terms to wade through it. Some of the translations do not do justice to describe the type of food served here. The “beef feet soup” served on Saturdays and Sundays might not sound appetizing to some, but the woman at the next table seemed to really like it. Breakfast is served all day, and there are daily soups and lots of side dishes to choose from.

My husband, Tony, chooses an item from the Mexican side of the menu, the beef tacos, which come with smoky refried beans and rice ($4.99). The tacos are on the smallish side, garnished simply with diced tomato and onion on tiny, fresh, hand-made corn tortillas. The seared beef in them is outstanding, and the plate is much more filling than it appears.

I think I am being smart in trying the chicken tamal (or tamale, $2). With no side dishes, I figure I won’t be too full for dessert. Wrong. This sucker is the size of a fist, with colorful layers of masa surrounding the chicken filling. It tastes great, but it probably requires long, slow digestion during naptime. I glance at the little boy snoozing at the next table, and I can totally relate.

Dessert is a plantain banana, which is stuffed with a creamy milk mixture and fried. The empanada de platano (three for $2.99) is delicate, chewy, sweet and creamy. It all tasted so good, I just had to walk it off afterward. Some things in life are worth the sacrifice.

This place wins points for authenticity and is a good place to take the kids if they are adventurous eaters. If you are from El Salvador, most likely this place is no secret to you. After looking at the posters on the wall and eating this food, I might be homesick for it myself.