Stuff it

La Santaneca offers Salvadoran staples, including pupusas, pollo encebollado and beef pastelito.

La Santaneca offers Salvadoran staples, including pupusas, pollo encebollado and beef pastelito.

PHOTO/ALLISON YOUNG

La Santaneca Restaurant is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The pupusa—a thick corn tortilla stuffed with goodness and grilled until just crisp—is most folks’ gateway to Salvadoran cuisine. In recent years, our area has seen many places offer this Central American staple, usually alongside more familiar Mexican fare. However, family-operated La Santaneca Restaurant in Carson City serving nothing but Salvadoran favorites, and it’s among the best I’ve had thus far.

My group ordered cheese pupusas ($1.89 each), which were also stuffed with loroco—an edible flower bud—pork and spinach. They were on the large size, with plenty of fillings and flavor. The requisite complement, curtido—mildly fermented cabbage slaw—had more seasoning than usual, and the tomato soup-esque salsa roja was served nice and warm.

The loca pupusa ($5.99) was indeed crazy. It was as large as the dinner plate it was served on and stuffed with a delicious mix of cheese, mushroom, spinach, refried beans, pork, chorizo, zucchini, loroco, onion, jalapeño and probably more. Also on the large side was a Salvadoran chicken tamale ($2.00), wrapped in plantain leaf and made with masa, red sauce and bone-in chicken; caution is recommended while eating.

I’ve had Mexican pollo encebollado—chicken pieces with sauteed onion and spices—but this Salvadoran rendition ($8.99) featured a roasted, whole chicken quarter, served with a pile of grilled onion and bell pepper. The dish also came with rice and a simple salad. The meat fell off the bone, and the herbed rice was light and just right for the dish.

The chirmol salsa of cilantro, avocado, tomato and onion was the perfect accompaniment to the super savory marinated and grilled skirt steak on my plate of carne asada con chirmol ($8.99). I couldn’t decide which was better, the meat or the condiment. More of a mixed bag was a Salvadoran-style chile relleno ($8.99). A bell pepper rather than poblano was stuffed with plenty of spicy, shredded beef and served with salad and rice. The sauce was bland, and the egg coating was mushy, but the meat and pepper were pretty good.

Finally, El Típico or “The Typical” ($13.99), was a combo plate with a bean pupusa, beef pastelito—a beef pasty— an enchilada Salvadoreña, yuca con chicharrón—cassava root and pork—and an empanada.

The beef pasty was a small, thick deep-fried tortilla filled with meat, potato and carrot. The enchilada was akin to Mexican sopes and tostadas—but also something all its own. The thick annatto-stained, deep-fried corn tortilla piled high with shredded chicken, refried beans, lettuce, carrot and crumbled hard cheese was an enjoyable blend of seasonings and textures. It was stacked so high that it was a challenge to eat, though I managed to make it through with a smile.

Large pieces of yuca were lightly fried, and the pork was more like carnitas than other deep-fried varieties. The pile of meat and starch was topped by a curtido salad, which by itself would have been a meal. Finishing off the plate was an empanada of sweet yellow plantain dough filled with refried beans, then deep-fried and tossed in sugar. It might sound a bit odd to those who are unfamiliar with it, but makes for a surprisingly nice dessert.