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A quest for Pupusas

On a recent California road trip with my son to look at colleges, we had some great El Salvadoran food (especially the Pupusas and Tamals) in Santa Margarita. We were still craving these when we returned home to SD. So after searching around I found El Salvadoreno in Logan Heights, and boy what a find it was! It was much better than what we had on our road trip. I’ve decided that I am in love with this place.

From the outside the joint didn’t look like much (bars on the windows like everywhere else in the neighborhood), but the inside, though definitely nothing fancy, was clean and rustic with an open kitchen and welcoming staff (though their English is pretty limited – luckily I speak passable Spanish). The raw wood on the walls and the paintings of El Salvador gave the place a nice homey feel. Bathrooms were also very clean which I always consider a very good indicator.

I ordered a variety of pupusas, pastels, tamales, and their Carne Guisada. The Pupusas smothered in their homemade sauce is da bomb! I could bathe in that sauce and they have a bunch of different stuffings. The tamals are really tasty, especially the Tamal en Hoja de Platano. The massa is super moist and almost like a fluffy pudding. The pasteles are as good as any empanada I have had. Crisp flakey tender exterior with a moist flavorful stuffing. The queso and pollo were the favorites. The Guisada was moist and flavorful and my wife loved the sauce and potatoes. Everybody else there (predominantly latinos) really seemed to be enjoying their food and one old guy with a big bowl of soup told me their sopas and especially their Sopa de Mondongo (tripe and cows feet stew) was the ultimate cure for what ails you (hang over). Definitely will have to try that along with their Mariscada (seafood soup similar to Siete Mares), Also, their whole fried Red Snapper, Huachinango Frito, looked amazing. The Platano Relleno stuffed with beef was another item that caught my eye.

I did observe something there that had me literally clamping my hand over my mouth just to keep from laughing aloud. Two guys, obviously a relatively affluent couple, were having brunch and just raving about the food to each other and alternatively talking about what wines would go with it. They excitedly flagged the waiter/cashier over to their table and proceeded to ask him how much the corkage fee was. Oh my, this was true comedy! Firstly his English was very limited, and secondly this is not the kind of place where they would serve or even understand wine. So these two guys trying to explain to him what corkage actually was and that they had a special bottle of wine that they wanted to bring with them was very humorous indeed. The waiter looked slightly annoyed completely perplexed by all of this. To him I think all he could get was that they wanted to bring in their own alcohol (cheap bastards?). I think it actually ticked him off that these guys were asking to bring in their own alcohol, because I finally heard him say quite forcefully, “No! No possible, no ask again!” The couple looked wounded and like they wanted to argue for a second, but then just resigned themselves to a depressed “okay”.

If you want good fresh Latin American comfort food, this is your place. If you want a decent wine list, then look somewhere else or get take-out. But definitely do not ask about a corkage fee!

I am interested to hear any hounds feedback on El Salvadoreno and also if I'm missing any other great Latin American restaurants? For instance who makes great Arepas? Empanadas? Papa Rellenos?

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  1. You've been here a long time if you still call it Logan Heights ;-D. Where is your wonderous resto located?

    There is also a fairly decent place on University just West of the I-15 a block or so in a converted old Pizza Hut that serves pretty decent pupusas. Tho' I think the place you found sounds even better...

    5 Replies
    1. re: DiningDiva

      Thanks Diva,

      Moved to SD to attend undergraduate in 84. Been on the Chowhound boards for many years, but my log-in got messed up and I recently created a new one. El Salvadoreno is 2845 Imperial Ave. Ha! What is Logan Heights called now?

      http://elsalvadorenosd.com/elsalvador...

      Hey I'm betting if anybody knows, you or Chica de Playa know who has really good Arepas or Papa Rellenos?

      1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

        Arepas in SD I haven't found, though I'm betting they probably do exist somewhere.

        I had a quite respectable papa relleno at Azucar in OB.

        And Logan Heights is now the very PC Barrio Logan

        1. re: DiningDiva

          I like the papas rellenos at Azucar too (plus their meat pies, and their guava pastries and their lime bars).

          1. re: melee

            Thanks. Cuban Croquetas are very similar to Columbian Papa Rellenos, but the fillings are flavored differenly and the Columbian version usually comes with a really fantastic spicey vinegar based salsa. I will definitely check it out though as Andres is okay, but nothing like eating Cuban in Miami.

          2. re: DiningDiva

            I thought Barrio Logan is the area next to the park and the bridge (and the water); while Logan Heights is inland from that?

            Related content: I now go to Logan Heights every friday to pick my kids up at their school bus stop: It's right across the street from the old Mariscos German, now "El Korita" or "Taqueria Korita" depending on which sign you are looking at. I haven't eaten there yet, but maybe someday I'll let the kids translate for me and we'll get some food.

      2. If you are in East County and want pupusas and other Salvadorenean foods (bistek, yuca, many pupusa fillings, atole de elote and really nice, fresh curtido)

        Pupusa Salvadoreña & Mexican Food 1207 East Main Street El Cajon, 92021 Open 9-9 M-Sat, Closed Sunday (619)447-2501

        It's been there more than 23 years. Very good.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Cathy

          Thanks, it sounds very good. 23 years is a good sign. I will definitely have to try it!

        2. at ortegas, in ob, there is a great pupusa lady; she is making them by hand outside. i know they are doing them on wednesdays for the farmers market, and maybe saturday nights. they are located on newport near cable.

          1. We have often enjoyed the pupusas at the former Pizza Hut that DD mentioned and at World's Best Pizza in Escondido. World's Best changed hands a few years ago, and the Salvadorean food that was added to the menu was our favorite in the county.
            I say "was" because we think we have a new fave. Last week we ate at a fairly large, well decorated Salvadorean restaurant on Imperial Avenue near 30th. Besides great pupusas (with unusual fillings offered, too, like mushrooms), they had a plethora of Salvadorean dishes, many of which I have not seen in other restaurants. In addition to my pupusa, I had something consisting of a homemade flour tortilla folded over a yummy combination of fillings. It was hearty and satisfying; sorry can't remember the name of the dish. We will return in the future to explore the menu and enjoy more great pupusas. Perhaps the biggest selling point to us, though it wouldn't be to everyone, was that the salsa was quite hot, Mexican-style, not chile-less like Salvadorean salsa.
            Two doors down from the Salvadorean restaurant was a place called "Antojitos Colombianos." Has anyone been? I tried to pick up a menu, but the door was already locked at 7:45 p.m. when we walked by.

            6 Replies
            1. re: maestra

              I've eaten there before - it's El Salvadoreno. I think what you described is called a baleada. I love their food!

              http://elsalvadorenosd.com/elsalvador...

              1. re: phee

                Yes, a baleada. Been to the Colombian place next door?

                1. re: maestra

                  Not yet - it's on my ever-growing list!

              2. re: maestra

                We just went to Salvadorena on Imperial. What a surprise. Compared to the bleak exterior, the interior was very nice and comfortable. We went at lunch and it was not too crowded but parking was tough, only street parking as far as I could tell. We split an order of the Salvadorena appetizer sample (which is meant for two but is enough for 3) as our main course with plenty left over. Yumm. Pupusas were our favorite but had several tasty treats. Pictures of some of the main courses and soups looking very interesting. My husband does not like super hot (ie chili-laden) food and everything we had was mild with an accompanying bowl of very spicy chili sauce. I would prefer a bit more kick to the dish itself, but he was in heaven. We will definitely go back.

                1. re: wrldtrvl

                  Thanks for the feedback. I was pleasantly surprised as well. Did you try either type of their tamales? Very very good. Loved the Guisada as well.

                  1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                    The appetizer platter had two types of tamales--the elote (good but a tad dry) and another type that had a very light taste of banana and had potatoes and meat inside and was much moister and was superb. The guisados looked great and are on the list for next time.

              3. There's a great pupusa stand at the City Heights farmers market on Saturdays. They make a good selection and serve them with a tasty pickled cabbage and their own salsa. We like to bring them home and eat them with a poached egg. Fillings include pork, chicken, cheese, jalapeno and squash flowers. Made to order and it often takes a wait. While you're waiting shop at this great fm, the prices and selection are wonderful.

                1. I ate here last week based on your review, and it was excellent. I was so impressed the service in this small, casual, neighborhood restaurant was 10 times better and more polished than some currently popular hipster-ish joints.

                  And the food.......

                  I had three Pupusas, chicharron, cheese with loroco, and cheese with mushroom. All of them were delicious and unique, especially the chicharron, and the loroco was a pleasant taste surprise. Also, I thought the three Pupusas were going to be a small meal, and then the server graced my table with a side of rice, beans, and that wonderful cabbage salad. I ate only 1/4 of everything and took the rest home.

                  I am taking my husband back there tonight. Thank you for a an informative review and a new place on our rotation.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Dagney

                    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I really think that this place is a hidden gem. The story of the owner is a really inspirational one as well. Hope to enjoy this place for years to come.