El Paisano Taqueria Y Pupuseria1901 Silverado Blvd.
Reno, NV 89512
When the dust settled, we came through alive, well fed, and very pleased with our meals. But first we had to brave a sloppy interior and chaotic service to fully enjoy the food and salsa bar at El Paisano Taqueria y Pupuseria, a Mexican and Salvadorian eatery in Sparks.
It was a poor sign that at 5:30 p.m., with a dinner rush presumably imminent, tables weren’t bussed, the floors were dirty, and my husband reported that the men’s room was a wreck. But Your Woman in Sparks soldiered on in the interests of dining reconnaissance, awaiting our dinner companion Monica. For a starter, we tried a pupusa ($1.89) with cheese.
Forgive the primer if this is Latin America Dining 101: Considered to be of El Salvadoran origin but popular in other Central American states, the pupusa, cousin to the possibly more familiar and open-ended Mexican gordita, is essentially flat cornbread stuffed with something or other and grill fried. We thought ours was pretty bland without salsa accompaniment, but I noticed that most of the customers ate them straight up, just as I’d observed in Central America. The taste might be acquired.
When Monica arrived, my husband fought through what appeared to be more of a listening problem than a language barrier before finally securing our order. During our conversation, the various items emerged at the counter piecemeal based on what seemed to be random chance, although I will assume there was a culinary method to what was ostensibly a presentation madness.
My fish tacos were meritorious ($7.69 for the combination plate with beans, rice and lettuce). A lot of fish tacos contain deep fried fish, which need not be unpleasant. However, El Paisano’s cook seared the little chunks of white fish perfectly on the grill, with just enough blackening to add smoky flavor without drying the fish bits, which were double wrapped in corn tortillas with their vegetable accompaniments.
Monica tried the Super Burrito ($5.19) with chicken. It was properly cooked and from quality fowl, but the only additive beyond the regular burrito ($4.19) was sour cream. My husband’s special-ordered bean, cheese and rice burrito combination plate ($6.29) was also flavorless in its own right, but as we found out, this was probably the point.
A quote from the book of Isaiah and other religious proclamations in Spanish are painted on the walls, but we secular cynics found our own salvation in the salsa bar. Hallelujah, we saw the light. In the best traditions of Latin American cuisine, El Paisano gives you a basic entree, and then you’re the author of your own reality. Among other condiments, there was excellent red, green, cayenne, onion-tomato-cilantro blend, extra onions and cilantro on the side, and shredded fermented cabbage curtido. (I admit it: I had to Google the identity of this last item.) I’m spoiled and would have liked a roasted vegetable-and-garlic option, as well, but as you can see I lived to write this without it. I hope God really does help those who help themselves, because that’s what we did in abundance.
Sorry, but I couldn’t brave the psychological gulf between my American palate and options like tacos ($1.09) with buche (pork stomach) or lengua (beef tongue) or the Salvadoran sopa de pata (feet soup).
The religious messages bounced off this crabby agnostic, so the closest thing to an epiphany I can report is that I’m glad to have found this little spot close to my job and on the way home, which is probably where I’ll end up eating it unless there is a substantial improvement in the condition of the dining room.