If you’re looking for some culinary exploration on a Saturday night, try venturing out to El Salvadoreno in downtown Overland Park. Yes, it’s deep in the heart of the Johnson County burbs, but it’ll taste like a trip to Central America, and it’s so worth it.
I had tried cuisine from El Salvador on just one other occasion quite a few years ago, so I still felt like a newbie as I studied the menu. Many things sounded familiar–enchiladas, fried yucca, tamales. Many things didn’t–pupusas, pastels and curtido. Mr. Sushipoet and I both opted for the El Salvadoreno Sampler, so we could try as many things as possible. As we waited for our dinners, I tried the Saturday night drink special–homemade sangria. It was good…and strong. The pour was moderately sized, but strong enough that I was feeling pretty mellow pretty quickly. Half a glass down, the bright overhead lights didn’t seem all that harsh, and I grew giddy anticipating a delicious tamale and pupusa.
At last our sampler plates arrived, loaded with a pork, bean and cheese pupusa; chicken tamale; yucca frita; beef pastel and an enchilada. The server brought two bottles of Salvadoran salsa–one hot and one mild.
Let’s start with the pupusa. Think of it as the Salvadoran version of flatbread that’s found in many cuisines around the globe. It’s made with masa and has a fluffier texture than most. It reminded me most of an Indian paratha. It’s stuffed with cheese, pork and beans, but these ingredients are in a paste-like form, giving the pupusa a very creamy, luscious texture.
The beef pastel is a crispy little meat pie, reminiscent of an empanada, and was quite flavorful. The chicken tamale is different than the tamales you’re accustomed to at local Mexican eateries. The masa is white corn and has a softer, creamier texture. It’s filled with chicken and potatoes and is delicious with Salvadoran hot salsa.
Another departure from what you may be accustomed to is the enchilada. Rather than a corn tortilla filled with cheese or meat, these enchiladas have a crisp, fried flatbread on the bottom and then are piled high with beans and salad.
If you’ve never had fried yucca before, you’re in for a treat. At El Salvadoreno, they’re fried in vegetable oil until they’re pleasantly crispy on the outside and smooth and buttery on the inside. I think I could eat a plateful. I think I shall. Soon.
The sampler plate is a generous introduction to the many dishes at El Salvadoreno. I was stuffed halfway through and happily brought home a to-go box. Just a few hours later, though, the siren song from the fridge was irresistible, and I found myself munching down the rest of my dinner.
I’m planning my next visit to El Salvadoreno already. An intense craving for pupusas, fried yucca and tamales has me obsessed.
© Sherry Burns and sushipoet.wordpress.com, 2012.