Cari Taylor-Carlson
Dining

El Salvador Has Gotten National Press

New York Times featured it. It’s a small special place with wonderful food.

By - Nov 7th, 2019 04:31 pm
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El Salvador Restaurant. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

El Salvador Restaurant. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

When the New York Times featured Milwaukee in the Travel section (“36 Hours in Milwaukee,” on October 13), and the New York-based writer Robert Simonson found tiny El Salvador Restaurant on South 6th Street, I knew it was time for me to return to an old favorite. Okay, it may have been a serendipitous discovery for Simonson who was looking for the Basilica of St. Josaphat across the street, and Kosciuszko Park, but still, he gave their signature pupusas a rave.

And with good reason. You can order one pupusa, or several, with a variety of fillings such as beans, cheese, zucchini, steak, or Salvadorian vegetables. It’s a thick flatbread made with cornmeal or rice flour served with curtido, shredded cabbage and carrot marinated in vinegar, and a thin tomato-based salsa. You may find a solo pupusa somewhat dry, but after you add the curtido and the salsa, you will discover a marvelous mix of sour, bitter, salty and spicy. The pupusa serves mainly as a platform to combine those three flavors, a base enlightened by its accoutrements. I had to hunt for a hint of cheese inside the Cheese Pupusa; however, the slightly burnt edge pieces on the outside were delish.

Even though El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America, it has a mighty cuisine that’s on display in this small unpretentious restaurant.

It’s also immaculate, with dark green diner-style chairs, a red tile floor, two booths, ten tables, three TVs turned off, and the Salvadorian flag prominently displayed on the wall. At 1:00 on a recent weekday, customers filled every table. Just one server somehow managed to get all those meals delivered promptly with a smile.

On each of several recent visits, my companions and I stayed with the Salvadorian dishes. From Comida Del Mar, the Shrimp Sauté with Garlic was served on thin slices of fried potatoes. The dish had enough garlic to announce its presence, yet it wasn’t overwhelming, allowing a mild reminder of that pungent flavor. The plate included rice with bits of corn and carrots and pureed refried pinto beans. One grilled poblano, hot and spicy, sent me to my refresco, lemonade made with real lemons, to put out the fire in my mouth.

For Carne Asada Con Casamiento, the chef combined the rice and beans instead of serving them as separate sides. The steak was tender; the rice/bean combo nothing special. A side lettuce salad and a grilled poblano, something cool, something hot, added pizzazz.

I had modest expectations for the Pollo Guisada, your basic stewed chicken, and was I surprised. Half a chicken cut into leg, breast, and wing, had been stewed in a red sauce that hinted of allspice and cumin, then served over rice. The fork-tender meat literally slid off the bones. Each bite was impossibly tender and infused with the subtle flavors of the sauce. Pollo Guisado, a superstar on this extensive menu, will call me back to El Salvador often.

Chiles Rellenos, another surprise dish, was a large green pepper was overstuffed with tender pulled pork. Add rice, a salad, a grilled poblano, and three small pupusas, and you have another memorable, yet simple plate of delicious.

Adventuresome diners might want to order Salvadorian-style Mojarra Frita, a small fried fish similar to tilapia. They serve it whole, head included, along with rice and a salad.

If you like your fruit cut up in a drink, order the Ensalada de Frutas or mixed fruit drink. What made this special were the floaters, perhaps as much as half a cup of chopped pineapple, mango, and apple, mixed into the naturally fruit-flavored drink.

I’m glad the Times writer discovered this tiny restaurant on the South Side. It’s an old friend where I have relished many tasty meals.Try it and you may feel the same.

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On The Menu

The Rundown

  • Location: 2316 S. 6th St.
  • Phone: 414-645-1768
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mon-Sun
  • Walk Score: 75
  • Transit Score: 51
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Restaurant-El-Salvador/175817195768617
  • UM Rating: 4.2 stars (average of Yelp, Trip Advisor and Zomato)
  • Menu size: 86
  • Price range food (small plates): $1.99-$8.99
  • Price range food (entrees): $8.99-$11.99
  • Beer list size (bottles): 7
  • Cuisine Style: Latin American

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