Central American in Chi
Its almost spring and before you know it, summer will be here. So to start this marathon of must stop eating spots that I will bring to you as the days go by and summer turns to fall, we'll also introduce a new series-Central American in Chicago. Its the part of the globe that separates North from South America and consists of seven different countries, all of which have restaurants with their respective cuisines available around Chicagoland. Our first visit in this series is to Pupuseria El Salvador, one of my favorite eating stops in Chicago. The number of Salvadoran restaurants in Chicago is pretty good and they all have similar menus and they all serve pupusas. The thick masa harina cakes are stuffed with cheese and or meats and are popular throughout Central America but particularly so in El Salvador. If you don't think you'll be making it there anytime soon then you need to head to the Eastside and one of my favorite neighborhoods in Chicago-Hegewisch. Its here where the treasure that is Pupuseria El Salvador resides over on east 106th street. Lets check out this super (mostly) unknown.
In Chicago's Hegewisch neighborhood
Just like all the other spots in the neighborhood Pupuseria El Salvador is in an old building. In fact its in the basement of an apartment building at the corner of 106th and Avenue L. Its a small spot that you step down some stairs into and open the door as if you were going over to somebody's house for lunch. When you get inside there are maybe three or four tables and a kitchen that takes up the rest of the area. There is a small TV with some Spanish language stuff on and a payphone as well. I know, I don't even see payphones at 7/11 or gas stations anymore.
View from our table, to the left not in the picture is the open kitchen
When me and my boy went in there we were greeted by a guy watching the tele and reading a newspaper. The menu is simple but has most of the countries standards including typical Salvadoran breakfast served 'til 10:30a. The guy behind the counter in the kitchen was really helpful and took our order and gave us a couple of bottles of Kolashanpan when I told him I wanted what the locals drink in El Salvador. Its an apple/bubble gum tasting pop that tasted so familiar I'm sure many different Caribbean and South American sodas taste the same. Since it reminded me so much of something from my youth I was an instant fan. When I looked this stuff up on google my first result was this guys site who is on a lifelong quest to find some here in the states. Yo guy! I got you covered. We took our seats with our bottles of pop and sat down at a table where each one has a red and green hot sauce bottle and a large jar of very tasty and refreshing curtido, a pickled cabbage salad with strong notes of vinegar and peppers in the housemade version. The stuff goes great with everything.
The hot green salsa, Kolashanpan and the mild red salsa
Curtido (Salvadoran cabbage salad) goes great with pupusas
The man running the show was nice as could be and brought us the food as it was ready. I knew it was going to be great when after we put in our order he yelled in the backroom and out came an older lady who got down to business making the pupusas and the rest of the goodies and I do mean goodies. It was obvious that this lady making the pupusas had made 100o's and 1000's in her lifetime. Its a pretty simple recipe but one of those things that some people just got a niche for, like Salvadoran grandmas for instance. I was here about a month ago and its the best lunch I have had this year so far. With warm weather around the corner I cant think of a better place to rec on a nice spring day for lunch. Its a quick drive down Lakshore Drive. You get a scenic route and an amazing lunch all in an afternoons swoop. Here's what we ate.
Salvadoran Platanos with housemade crema
^These plantains were cooked perfectly and must of been sugar coated because they were sweetly addicting and perfectly caramelized as you can see in the pic above. But what put them over the top as some of the best fried plantains I've had was the homemade crema that we ordered them with them. The crema worked great with everything but really well with these.
^If your a regular reader you know I'm a tamale guy and I love to try the regional variations of them. I was happy to try my first Salvadoran tamale which was another winner. Still haven't found any tamales I don't enjoy. The masa on these was looser than a Mexican tamale and on the insides were chicken, potato, carrot and other veggies made a nice flavor combo.
A Plate of Pupusas, El Salvador's favorite street food
If your Pupuseria El Salvador and I'm dining at your place, I'm eating pupusas. On the outside of the building is a banner advertising the popular handmade corn pancake like treats that are stuffed with meats, veggies and cheese. At $1.25 each they are a steal and you always order a few. In El Salvador pupusas are also basically their version of tortillas but with filling. These insanely addicting snacks are made fresh to order by the ladies who work the kitchen and they have perfected the art of doing them. Items available inside the pupusas are zucchini, cheese, refried beans and refried pork meat. Also available is the granddaddy of them all refried pork, beans and cheese. According to the thesaurus the words for these are delectable, divine, delicious, luscious and so on. You gotta love how the cheese oozes out of the side and gets burnt and turns crispy on the cheese filled ones too.
The insides of a refried pork meat, beans and cheese pupusa
I had heard about this place from some knowledgeable peops in the food game and they had said good things about the housemade chorizo. In case you were wondering, there's not much that isn't made in the little kitchen there. El Salvadoran chorizo is different from Mexican and more like the Spanish version. The links are tied off with corn husks and there is a chili presence along with some other amazing flavors that make one hell of a flavor combo for sausage. They were served on top of a Salvadoran tortilla which as mentioned above is a pupusa with no fillings.
Pupuseria El Salvador's housemade chorizo links
Get in me belly!
To finish out our meal we ordered what is basically the best desert item I have had in sometime. I'm not big on sweets but I know anyone would love the platano frito o crema. This was simply divine and I'm starting to realize that I say I'm not big on sweets alot but always seem to enjoy them. Well now I wont be able to like much else because these were oh so special. Its a ball of plantain dough filled with crema then fried and dusted in sugar. You see what I'm saying?
Salvadoran desert-Plaintain dough filled with crema then fried and sugar coated
This is a spot that was on my "to get to" list for a very long time and that's a damn shame. I'm really glad I finally made it here because its in my city favorites already as you can see. I have 100's of spots waiting to be posted about on here and this place jumped alot of them. I'm not sure how business is but we were the only people in there during our visit and I didn't like that, it was so good and cheap too. I hope they can stick around for a long time and encourage anyone who thinks this place looks great to get on over. The two of us there ate as much as we could (alot) and each had a drink and left a $2 tip and walked out spending $24. If I had to compile a spot of ten places that are my favorite (very hard to do) I don't see this place not making that list. Get at it.
Pupuseria El Salvador
3557 E 106th St
Chicago, IL 60617