Jan 162012
 

I have eaten at El Salvadoreño a number of times since it opened up across from the Overland Park farmer’s market a few short months ago, and as much as I relish complaining, I don’t really have anything bad to say about it.

Exterior

The cuisine is every bit as authentic and tasty as Johnson County’s other Salvadoran outlet, El Pulgarcito and is dished out in a much tidier and slicker environment. El Pulgarcito seems to attract a more working class Latino clientèle while El Salvadoreño tends toward curious white people off the street, which makes sense given its location at the heart of a small but viable middle class shopping district. However I will not ruminate farther on this matter because it doesn’t really matter. Both restaurants have unique qualities and enough distance between them that I hope they can co-exist comfortably because they are both assets to their communities. El Salvadoreño’s Facebook page proudly declares, “Real Central American Food Made By Real Central American People” – and that’s what is really important isn’t it?

El Salvadoreño offers the familiar assortment of pupusas: cheese, pork, loroco, beans and the glorious mix of pork, beans and cheese, sometimes referred to as revueltas. The pupusas arrive fresh of the grill, not too greasy, and have excellent texture and a nicely griddled crust. On one visit I did receive a pupusa that was a tad less griddled than I prefer but to complain would be splitting hairs.

Salsa

Pupusas arrive with the requisite jar of curtido, a slightly spicy shredded coleslaw accompaniment and red sauce which does not have a strong flavor but does provide much needed moisture to this starch-heavy cuisine.

A particularly delicious starch is the fried yuca which comes topped with chunks of fried pork, curtido and sauce.

Yuca Frita

The yuca wedges are expertly fried and incredibly crispy on the outside. At $6.50, yuca frita is one of the cheaper options for lunch if you’re crazy you don’t feel like having pupusas.

One item that I have not seen at other Salvadoran outlets is the pan relleno ($7.50) which bears the distinction of being somewhat of a preposterous novelty sandwich while not being all that unhealthy.*

Pan Relleno

While the menu describes the filling as “roasted, marinated chicken” with a “spoonful of chicken broth” the soft texture and flavor implied that it was poached or stewed, then shredded into a mild, chile-based sauce. This is conjecture as I am completely ignorant of the actual cooking method. A soft French roll serves as the delivery system, along with a few crisp vegetable slices. The pan relleno is also supposed to come with mayonnaise on it, feel free to ruin the sandwich yourself by acquiescing. It is nearly impossible to eat with a knife and fork and even harder to manage with your hands. Like most things wet and sloppy in the world however, this sandwich is worth the effort invested. Spring for the escabeche ($1.50) which is a mix of pickled carrots, onions, cauliflower and cucumbers, pointedly spiced with oregano. It makes a splendid crunchy accompaniment to the mild, softness of the pan relleno.

Escabeche

I’d be remiss not to mention El Salvadoreño’s superb tamales. The masa has perfect texture: wet but firm, almost like custard. The pork filling is both a humble and decadent option, offering the characteristic tenderness of slow-cooked meats the world over. They have chicken tamales too.

Tamal

The little deep fried pasteles are great too. The ground beef version lacks the flavor punch of the vegetarian pastel but the tomato-cilantro puree that accompanies both makes them equally enjoyable.

The service is quite friendly. El Salvadoreño seems to be a family run business and it’s apparent that each person in the kitchen and on the floor have a stake in its success. While small, it’s the kind of dining room that would prove challenging for one server when it fills up. Fortunately there are almost always two people minding the front of the house, something its southerly neighbor, Elsa’s, should pay heed to.

The storefront space is quite modern with high ceilings, bright colors, hard surfaces and metal accents. Interestingly the front wall of the place doubles as a garage door that can be opened in warmer months. This can only be a good thing when the farmer’s market kicks into full gear and the area is crushed with hungry consumers. I admit that part of me prefers the run-down comfort of El Pulgarcito when it comes to this kind of food but there’s no reason to pass it by when you want a good meal in downtown Overland Park.

El Salvadoreño
7926 Santa Fe Dr
Overland Park, KS
(913) 871-6165
9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday – Thursday
9 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

El Salvadoreno on Urbanspoon

*For native Salvadorans,the pan relleno is not a novelty but rather a hallmark of their traditional cuisine. To others, the dish may across as a little nuts.

El Pulgarcito: 5921 Merriam Dr.

 Posted by at 6:52 pm
Jun 272008
 

Exterior

First of all, a big shout out to reader JH, who suggested I try this place out a month or two back. I truly appreciate all the great suggestions I get, and just wish that I could hit them all in a reasonable time frame. The life of an insatiable glutton is never complete.

Merriam Drive is turning into the best restaurant road on the wrong side of 39th street, what with Grandstand Burgers, Coyoacan, Woodyard BBQ, and now El Pulgarcito, which could be my favorite of the lot.

I haven’t done any research on the place, I didn’t check Yelp or Chowhound or other websites of dubious value to get a sense of what to expect. I have only been to one other Salvadoran restaurant before (now closed) and was pretty impressed at the combination of earthy, spicy, and tangy flavors.

Salvadoran food is analogous to Mexican cuisine, and even features some of the same names: tacos, tamales, burritos, etc. But it ain’t Mexican food, certainly not the type we have come to expect in Kansas City. For one Salvadoran dishes make judicious use of cheese, not the overabundance much Tex-Mex fare has made us accustomed to. Many items incorporate a simple combination of starch (tortilla, dough, bread), meat and spice.

Again, don’t forget I’m no expert on Salvadoran food, these are just my impressions. Is there a Salvadoran in the house?!

With that in mind I’ll go on to say that the pupusa is probably the hallmark of Salvadoran cuisine. El Pulgarcito has a damn good pupusa. It’s basically a flat dough pocket filled with your delicious choice of meat or cheese or whatever. On each table, the restaurant places a large canister of spicy cole-slaw type stuff, known as curtido. Unlike cole slaw, this mixture is vinegary and a little spicy with no sweet undertones.

Curtido

Combined with some mysterious red sauce in a squirt bottle, this was the perfect match for a rich, earthy pupusa (did I just write “rich, earthy pupusa”? ew, yes I did). The pork inside was some seriously delicious stuff, with a deep red color and shredded finely. Ahhh, God it was good.

Pupusas

Pupusas

I also ordered a pork tamale, which had excellent flavor but I found the consistency of the masa to be a tad gritty and not firm enough. Basically it was a little mushy. Did I eat the whole thing? you bet your ass I did.

Tamal

Rice and beans were both great–homemade and well seasoned. The rice was a tad overcooked, but it had probably been sitting in a pot for a while so I’ll give them a break on this one.

What about the atmosphere you ask?

Interior

Well, it’s charming, not because they try to be charming, but it’s just a humble, divey, honest little place. It has windows and booths on three sides with a counter in the center of the room. The whole joint is run by one waitress and one cook. The waitress is very good at her job, much more talkative with Spanish-speaking customers but I think this is just a language comfort thing. I was in and out in less than 1/2 hour. When I left about 1:30, the smallish restaurant was mostly full.

As for clientele, it varies widely inasmuch as a room full of latinos can vary widely. There was a hard-looking guy with a bimbette having a hangover brunch, a young dad and his 3 kids, a single businessman on his lunch break, a middle aged well dressed woman, some guys with repair shop uniforms…you get the idea.

I wish a had a newspaper or something to read while I was there but it was really no big deal. Hell of a lot better than having a television there. Actually, the lack of a TV vastly improves my impression of the place now that I think about it. I’m not a TV nazi, but 99% of the time, if someone else picks the channel, I lose.

Anyhow, El Pulgarcito gets the DLC stamp of approval, for what that’s worth. There is a lot more on the menu that I need to try, namely the whole fried fish I saw coming out of the kitchen to several tables. I overheard a conversation in Spanish between a guy who ate this fish and the waitress. Now, I don’t understand much Spanish but I’m pretty sure he was saying, “I’d like to put that delicious fish all over my private parts.” Yeah it looked and smelled quite spectacular. I’m not big on soup but there were several varieties on the menu and the soup looked homemade, authentic and smelled great.

Oh by the way, prices are good, but not as cheap as your typical Mexican joint. I spent $10 with tip. Of course that included a delicious tamarind drink so you cheapskates can stick with water.

Read more:

Yelp

El Pulgarcito on Urbanspoon