Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you think she should go next? Drop us a line.
If you’re looking for a list of the pupusas at Es Con Sabor Pupuseria, an El Salvadorian joint on West Adams, you’ll find it on the last page of the menu, a foreshadowing fact, it turns out. The majority of the menu is filled with all kinds of other stuff – entrees like stewed beef or fried tilapia, tamales, huevos revueltos, a seafood soup, and even hamburgers. But this is a pupuseria, so a pupusa — a thick corn tortilla stuffed with cheese and just about anything else — is my first order of business. I take my waitress' recommendation for the “really popular” spinach version (other big sellers are the bean and cheese, the "everything," and the basic chicken). I also order up a side of fried plantains, black beans, and cream to go along with it.
While I wait, I try to get a look at what other patrons are eating, but the restaurant’s booths, which are the exact color of grape Bubble Yum, are so huge I can’t see over them in order get a good look at anyone's plate. About four other parties are here – a teenage girl and her mom, a trio of adults cooing over a baby, an elderly woman with a purse around her neck, and a canoodling couple waiting for takeout.
It takes about 10 minutes for my food to arrive and, in the meantime, the server drops off some thin, slightly greasy and rather delicious chips in a tiny, narrow basket (a surefire way to stop me from overindulging) and a ramekin of watery, medium-hot bright salsa full of tomato chunks and chile seeds.
The pupusa's good, but not great. Though I like the oozy mix of mozzarella cheese and finely chopped spinach, the tortilla is a little dry, especially around the edges since the filling is mostly in the middle with no chance of it spilling out the sides. I also wish the pupusa spent a bit more time on the grill, to crisp up the outside a touch more. The vinegary cabbage and carrot slaw that comes on the same plate is OK, but tastes slightly overpowered by the flavor of a heavy dose of dried oregano.
The plantains are a hit — mushy, sticky sweet, and caramelized just right in spots so that they actually melt in your mouth. (Sorry for the cliché, but that's exactly what happens.) The saltiness of the pureed black beans and coolness of the ultra-thick cream are the perfect complement and the side dish suddenly seems like the highlight of the meal.
I don't need more food, but can't help but feel I should try something else. I go for a chicken tamale, which turns out to be massive, wrapped in a banana leaf, rather than the corn husk I'm used to seeing at most tamale shops. It's an El Salvadorian thing, says my waitress, as is the wet texture of the tamale. The consistency is a sort of delectable combination of mashed potatoes and soft polenta and I'm wowed by the intense corn flavor. There are just a couple of green pepper strips and well-seasoned but thick chicken pieces inside, though it's the masa that's really the most wonderful aspect of the dish. And for $2.30, it's a much bigger meal than the pupusa at the same price.
So it's the second time in two weeks that I'm less impressed with what's touted in the restaurant's name than everything else I order. Maybe I'm on to something. Tomorrow, I finally give those bagels from the donut shop a try ?
All items: $2 to $16
— Lizbeth Scordo