Salivating Salvadoran

Cheese pupusas, cabbage salad and sauce at El Salvador restaurant.

Cheese pupusas, cabbage salad and sauce at El Salvador restaurant.

Photo By David Robert

El Salvador Restaurant

517 Forest St.
Reno, NV 89509

(775) 329-3399

I don’t eat at El Salvador Restaurant every week, but I probably hit it up once a month or so. This is partly because of proximity; it’s about a block from my day job, and a relaxed walk from my house. As often as not, the enticing smells drifting out grab me by the nostrils, lift me up and drag me in, just like the smell of carrot stew pulls Bugs Bunny.

A comparison to Mexican food is inevitable, especially since El Salvador Restaurant also serves Mexican cuisine.

But there are differences. For one, Salvadoran food is a little milder than Mexican food, with more tropical flavors (plantains and bananas figure heavily) and less of an overt European influence.

Although it’s highly doubtful that we’re likely to run out of good Mexican meals in Reno anytime soon, El Salvador Restaurant offers up a nice variation.

I had the tipico Salvadoreño for $8.99. It was a kind of sampler combination plate of Salvadoran favorites: rice and beans, a pastelito (a stuffed pastry appetizer), a couple of tasty bites of pork, a pupusa (the cheese-filled tortilla that’s the signature item of a Salvadoran meal), an empanada (a sugar-coated fried banana-and-cream treat, good for dessert), a nude ("undressed") salad, and something I didn’t recognize or catch the name of, but that the waiter aptly described as “like a potato, only a lot better.” That might sound like a mouthful, and it was. A delicious, delicious mouthful.

My girlfriend, Sara, had the two chicken tacos combo plate for $6.50. The tacos were a crisp cilantro and onion affair not too different from what you might find at your favorite Mexican joint.

El Salvador Restaurant recently expanded, nearly doubling the seating area. The restaurant doubles as a gift shop, selling wrapped candy, miscellaneous trinkets, DVDs and CDs at the counter, some of it El Salvador-themed.

The place is very comfortable inside. The interior design consists largely of tourist posters of green Salvadoran nature scenes. TVs are set up in the corners, usually tuned into bosomy Spanish-language soap operas.

I also like the name: El Salvador Restaurant. It’s ballsy, like it’s the one restaurant good enough to represent the whole country. What some might construe as uncreative, I credit to a healthy, bombastic attitude.

Ordering can be confusing. The staff passes out menus (mostly in Spanish, with some rather sloppy English translations), but also have numbered combination platters listed above the counter. Some, but not all, of these combination plates also appear in the menu, while it has pictures of some, but not all, of the offerings, and even has pictures of some of the combination plates not mentioned by name in the menu. But the waitstaff is generally helpful and can quickly clear up any confusion.

The big attraction is the pupusas. We ordered a couple extra. They’re just a $1.75 a la carte. They’re served with a light tomato sauce, pickled cabbage and other vegetables on the side. The flavors are very simple but inexplicably addictive. I can’t explain why. It’s like trying to explain why swimming is fun or puppies are cute, it’s just a basic fact of life.

For anyone who hasn’t tried one before, this is a great opportunity to explore new parts of the world on your taste buds. It’s like meeting your first puppy or visiting your first swimming hole—a chance to learn what some of us take for granted: Pupusas are good.