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Mar 4, 2010 12:04 AM

El Malecon y Sra. Sanchez, Mi Salvadoreña Favorita (Rohnert Park)

El Malecon, tucked away in a Rohnert Park strip mall, is my new Salvadoran top pick. As this sign indicates, local produce and local wines are featured.

Here’s a look at the bright and cheery interior.
Dining here alone, three times so far, I’ve been offered the day’s newspaper to keep me company. The vibe feels like a neighborhood café combined with your favorite auntie’s kitchen.

Sitting at my keyboard now thinking about how to describe El Malecon, I wonder if I should lead off with the wonderful pupusas. Maybe the carefully crafted tamales, the delicious atoles, or the sublime empanadas de plátanos? Perhaps the best introduction is to talk about the lovely proprietress, Sra. Sanchez, behind all the delicious and nurturing food here. This is a woman who radiates a beatific joy and calm. Soft-spoken, a little bit hesitant in English, yet so soothing as she lovingly describes the specials featured on the chalkboard in a manner that makes you want to order every single one of them. This level of care is amplified in her cooking. She’ll peek out from behind the counter several times during the course of the meal to see if I look happy, and later checks in to make sure all is satisfactory. No need really, as everything I’ve tasted is so fresh, pristine and well-crafted.

I asked Sra. Sanchez about her path to restaurant ownership. She explained that her husband was the vineyard manager for Peterson Winery in Dry Creek Valley for many years. At one point Fred Peterson asked her to be the crush cook for his harvest crews and she found she enjoyed cooking for others. Peterson’s wines and other Sonoma County labels are featured here.

My first time here, I noticed a business card for custom cakes offered by Evelyn Linares. Why did that name sound familiar? Then I remembered the perfect pupusas at the Cinco de Mayo fiesta in Santa Rosa three years earlier. As it turns out, Evelyn is Sra. Sanchez’s daughter and she was there helping Evelyn with the booth that day. Imagine my delight that these masa cakes of love could now be enjoyed at a local restaurant!

Pupusas by Evelyn Carolina Linares

This photo shows the pupusas revueltas and Salvadoran-style creamy horchata from that my first lunch at El Malecon.

The pupusas, filled with a combination of beans, pork and cheese, were a bit different than I remembered but equally good. Made-to-order these corn cakes had a fresh crispness at first bite yielding to a creamier interior. Sra. Sanchez explained that rather than rice flour, she has found a very finely ground corn that is close to the rice texture with better flavor. The fresh, crispy curtido of cabbage with some carrots was well-seasoned with oregano and tangy for a nice lift. It was a special treat to have a true Salvadoran-style horchata with sweet spicing and richness from ground nuts and seeds.

So happy with this find, I was back in less than two weeks to give her tamales a try. Shown here: Tamal de chipilín, tamal de elote and atole.

The tamales were made with an uncommon precision, symmetrical and uniformly filled from stem to stern. Served with the wrappers peeled back, the tamales were presented just so to show off their form. The banana leaf-wrapped tamal de chipilín came with a jalapeño-inflected pico de gallo; the corn husk-encased elote (sweet fresh corn) served with a buttery and salty crema Salvadoreña. Obviously freshly steamed, the masa was so light and fluffy. The atole, made with milk, hit just the right level of sweetness to highlight the fresh corn without being sugary.

My third time would be much later, a cold and stormy day in January. Sra. Sanchez greeted me warmly almost like her prodigal child saying, “I am so happy to see you again. I had a dream about you and now you’re here.” I asked for an atole, explaining that I’d not eaten yet this day. A cloud passed her face as she apologized that the atole de elote on the board was already sold out and offered me one of the aguas. “Señora, I am chilled to the bone and need to drink something hot”, I replied. She thought for a moment and said that she had some chocolate on hand if I wanted a hot chocolate or she could make me atole de piña. The complimentary basket of chips with the excellent salsa casera and avocado-based salsa verde came out quickly. Here’s what my lunch of atole de piña and caldo de pata (mondongo) looked like.

The caldo de pata, served with very fresh garnishes of cabbage, chiles and lime and made-to-order, fat Salvadoran-style tortillas, was brimming with fresh vegetables and tripe. The stewed soft rind, tendon and meat of the pigs foot were all neatly pulled off the bone for easy eating. Nearly greaseless, the complex stock had a sticky mouthfeel from the dissolved gelatin. So good, at El Malecon one can polish off a big bowl of tripe and pigs feet and feel revitalized rather than bloated.

For a sweet ending to this love letter, now the dessert. The empanadas de plátanos, milky pudding encased in aromatic plantains are the best I’ve had. Fried to a beautiful brown and dusted with just a bit of sugar, the natural taste of the ripe plantains shines through beautifully.

Each time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen more than two other tables occupied. Sra. Sanchez said that business has slowed down and now El Malecon is closed on Tuesdays. I hope that chowhounds will support this family-owned gem.

El Malecon on FB

El Malecon
217 Southwest Blvd, Rohnert Park, CA 94928

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  1. THANK YOU Melanie! Can't wait to try this place. Since leaving RWC there are much fewer Salvadoran choices up here. This looks right up our alley.


    3 Replies
    1. re: Jeni Bean

      I hope that you enjoy Mrs. Sanchez and her cooking as much as I do. She is such a sweet lady. Each of my meals was a weekday lunch when she has one assistant in the kitchen and her husband putters around too. On the weekends she said that her daughter sometimes helps out too.

      I've noticed that most of the Anglo customers order the Mexican food rather than Salvadoran. I'm sure it's good too, judging from the high quality of her two salsas. In fact Sra. Sanchez was a bit surprised that I knew what revuelta or loroco were and asked if my husband was from El Salvador.

      When you're in the neighborhood, you can check out the halal grocer, Portuguese bakery, Grocery Outlet, and the gelato place that i haven't been to yet.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        So we went for a late and light lunch on Saturday afternoon. There was only one other table occupied. We went with a pupusa de loroco, a pupusa w/ pork and beans, and the sweet corn tamale. Wow is all I can say. Growing up eating El Salvadoran food almost exclusively from Amelia's in Redwood City tought me what is good and what isn't. I thought the pupusas at El Malecon were exemplary. The earthy flavor of the loroco showed well through the gooey cheese, the pork and bean pupusa was the right amount of filling to corn, and most as all get out.

        The star for me, however, was the sweet corn tamale. That was AMAZING. The savory crema atop the sweet, creamy, and cool corn tamale was just fantastic.

        Melanie, you are right that the salsa is fantastic. We want to go back as soon as possible to try the large platos tipicos and have some of the wine they showcase there.

        That shopping mall is quite the destination, I look forward to exploring it. (Though there were quite a few unsavory types waiting outside the tattoo parlor.)

        Thanks for the heads up.

        El Malecon
        217 Southwest Blvd, Rohnert Park, CA 94928

        1. re: Jeni Bean

          I'm so glad you enjoyed the food! I wondered if my assessment might be overly positive because I liked Mrs. Sanchez so much. She puts so much care into her cooking.

          I haven't had a chance to check out the shopping mall yet. There's a bail bondsman too, I think. I am curious about the Thai restaurant across the parking lot.

    2. I just got back to work from lunch at El Malecon. Right from the arrival of the chips and salsa, I knew it was a winner. All of you are right, both the red and green salsas were delicious, and the chips were so fresh and flavorful. The tortillas, and hence the chips, are a little different from the ones usually found in Mexican restaurants: there seems to be some whole grain in there that gives them a great taste and crunch. I had the tamale de elote and a queso and loroca flower empanada. They were both absolutely delicious and I am now so full I can hardly think, because I couldn't bear to leave a bite. Sra. Sanchez' son was sitting next to me eating a huarache with nopalitos, which looked delicious. Just before I left, he returned to his seat with a second one. He saw me looking and said "I'm still growing, I need to eat a lot!" I didn't know yet that he was Sra. Sanchez' son, and I asked him about the huarache. He said it's not on the menu, but you can always ask for it, and in fact you should just ask his mother what is new and good and have that. I can't wait to got back and try more things!

      3 Replies
      1. re: Kathleen M

        There's so much to love about this little place. Thanks for giving it a try, Kathleen. I hope the SSU crowd will find their way there to boost the biz.

          1. re: DJ Mark 7

            Thanks for the kind words everyone, I have been lucky enough to eat Sra. Sanchez's food for the last 35 years!
            She is my mom and she trully enjoys cooking and having people enjoy her food.
            Come by on Saturdays and the first mimosa is on us!

            El Malecon
            217 Southwest Blvd, Rohnert Park, CA 94928

      2. Looks like this place has new ownership. Too bad! Anyone have any update?

        4 Replies
        1. re: dimsumfan

          yes, my mom used to own it, she decided to sell and spend more time with the family.
          we went to El Salvador for two weeks last month, she is enjoying life and taking a well deserved time off.
          She still wants to open another restaurant... i will keep you posted when we have a new location.

          El Salvador Restaurant
          2278 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

          1. re: Luis Marquez

            Please do let us know when your mom returns to the restaurant biz. She fed us so well, best regards.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              How is the place with the new owners?

              1. re: dimsumfan

                It's had a couple businesses in that venue in the intervening years.

                Current occupant, Don Julio's Rincon Latin Grill and Pupusas, has brought back pupusas and sounds good.