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El Salvador Restaurant’s Homeland Favorites

Latin American dining experience in Milwaukee

Nov. 3, 2009
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Latin American dining options abound in Milwaukee, from numerous Mexican and Puerto Rican options to a Peruvian eatery. El Salvador Restaurant, named after the Central American nation, gives city diners a chance to further explore our taste for Latin fare.

El Salvador Restaurant is located in the shadows of the landmark St. Josaphat’s Basilica, in a building that once housed Polonez Restaurant. The interior has changed since then, featuring one front dining room with tile floors and a large painting of street vendors. They are shown serving pupusas, which could be considered the national dish of El Salvador.

Pupusa is handmade corn cake with a filling in the center. It is round and about the size of a tortilla, but as thick as a sope. When prepared well, as they are at El Salvador Restaurant, they are a special treat. Every table with a first-time visitor should order a pupusa ($1.99-$2.29), as this also includes curtido, a cabbage slaw with carrot, dried red chiles and marinated onion. Cabbage and radishes appear frequently.

The menu is filled with other Salvadoran specialties as well. Many have Mexican-sounding names such as carne asada and chicharrón, but the preparation can be quite different here. You’ll also find a page devoted to Mexican fare, but those options can be found at dozens of nearby restaurants.

Diners first receive a basket of tortilla chips and good red salsa, mostly tomato with some onion and just enough chile pepper. It would be perfectly acceptable at a Mexican restaurant.

Chicharrón, minced pork that is nearly as spicy as chorizo but nowhere near as fatty, is one of the starters. In Mexico, chicharrón usually refers to pork rinds—not the case here. A vegetarian one is filled with mild cheese and locoro, a flower bud said to be similar to a squash blossom. It is finely minced. Another decent starter is pasteles. The pasteles con pollo ($4) are like small empanadas, pastries filled with mildly spiced chicken. The serving of three means there is enough to share. Another vegetarian starter is the tamale with elote ($1.99), fresh kernels of corn that are mixed with masa dough before steaming. The tamale is a tad sweet and served with crema.

The entrees are about half meat and half seafood, so vegetarians will have to settle for pupusas and a few side dishes. The El Salvador specialties are listed prominently. Salpicon con carne de res ($8.95) is minced, cooked beef served at room temperature. It is mildly spiced and prepared with onion. What appears to be cilantro is actually mint that provides a flavor with hints of Southeast Asia. It is served with casamiento, rice with red beans, plus a simple salad with a wedge of lime. This comes with a side of tortillas that are made here. The tortillas are thicker than their Mexican counterparts and have a wonderful corn flavor, just like the pupusas.

Yuca con chicharrón ($8.95) is diced pork served over yuca mixed with curtido. The pork, quite unlike the pupusa filling, is fried to a crisp and crunchy to the bite. The yuca, also called cassava, is a root tuber very similar to white potato. It is more starch than flavor, but it works as a counterpoint to the chicharrón. Sprigs of watercress top the dish.

Carne asada ($8.95) in Mexico would be small slices of beef that have been marinated and grilled. Here it is a large piece of skirt steak with little hint of any marinade. It is also on the tough side—a rare disappointment on this menu. The Mexican portion of the menu contains tacos with carne asada (with Mexican-style tortillas). The carne asada is obviously marinated and the meat is chopped, making this an excellent item to order.

All entrees arrive with squeeze bottles of salsa. Both are mild: The green salsa is made of tomatillos, while the Salvadoran red salsa is made with tomato herbs and olive oil.

The setting is very casual and the music can be loud. There is no bar in this tiny place, but Central American beers and margaritas are available. The friendly and helpful wait staff seems to enjoy seeing new customers enjoy their homeland favorites.

El Salvador Restaurant
2316 S. Sixth St.
(414) 645-1768
Credit Cards: All Major


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