When I used to live in El Salvador, I would sometimes visit the capital, San Salvador, and go to Metrocentro, a concrete monstrosity that was (and I believe still is) the largest mall in Central America. My favorite place to eat in the mall soon became Pavito Criollo, a little stand where, for a few bucks, I would get a pan con pavo, the best turkey sandwich I had ever eaten.
It was entirely too big for once person to eat alone — a three-hander — and was a essentially a white bread bun filled a mountain of tender turkey meat and topped with repollo, fermented cabbage slaw. The meat was so juicy, however, that it quickly saturated the bun and turned the experience of eating the sandwich into a very sloppy, indelicate affair.
That was a rather lengthy way of saying that Jaraguá, a Salvadoran restaurant on corner of Serrano and Beverly Boulevard in East Hollywood, has this pan con pavo sandwich. They're certainly not alone in that regard, but this one, at Jaraguá — and I say this in the most positive way possible — it reminds me of being at the mall. It reminds me of standing there in a food court, suffering in 95% humidity, trying to force a too-big sandwich into my maw, and clear, brown turkey juices running down my arms and staining my shirt.
It's also about the size of an NFL regulation football
The pan con pavo at Jaraguá looks like a large boat, or an ark, or a shoe, or hollowed-out football — take your pick. The crusty white bread shell is stuffed with the tender, shredded turkey meat (watch out for the wayward bone!) that is so juicy, it's sopped through the bottom of the sandwich. Topping the meat is a generous handful of fresh, piquant, crunchy repollo. The soft, savory meat and peppery slaw make for the innards of an ideal sandwich. It's also about the size of an NFL regulation football. Good luck eating it and maintaining your dignity.
Jaraguá is not a new restaurant — it's been there for a good eight or nine years years, holding down the fort with exemplary and under-appreciated Salvadoran food. Owners Ana and Milton Fuentes (their family also owns Atlacatl, down the street) make some of the best pupusas in town, stuffed with fresh chicharron, ayote (squash), and loroco (a nutty, edible flower that is so delicious it baffles me why it isn't found on non-Salvadoran menus). What's really added a level of excitement, though, is the restaurant's partnership with the bar next door, The Copper Still Bar.
The two establishments are independent but symbiotic. The Copper Still used to simply be the back bar of Jaraguá (the overused restaurant trope "bar and grill" comes to mind) but since current beverage manager Nancy Kwon took over the Still three years ago, it's turned into a destination all it's own — a place to get some of the finest, most innovative drinks and craft cocktails in the city.
Some of the finest, most innovative drinks and craft cocktails in the city
Best of all, food from Jaraguá can be ordered directly from the bar until midnight, which is long after the actual restaurant has closed. Not just snacks or fried food either: the entire menu, including breakfast, is available.
What does that mean? It means you can sit at the bar and eat a fluffy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside pupusa revuelta, all while sipping one one of Kwon's signature creations, like the Sage Advice, a sage-forward gin cocktail, or the Frankenstein, a rooty, spicy, highly potent cocktail made with 114-proof bourbon whiskey. Kwon, a native of Torrance and one of the best bartenders in town, is also one of the friendliest, and she will happily discuss the finer points of sarsaparilla bitters and Becherovka with you while putting in your order for Salvadoran poutine.
Right — the poutine. The hardy yucca replaces the potato in this reimagining, making it a good deal less greasy than a typical poutine. The yucca is a somewhat hardier root vegetable and it's cut thickly here, meaning there's less of a heavy, fried feel. The yucca is topped with a generous portion of what is essentially pot roast, and a healthy portion of the natural gravy.
The meat, which is slow-cooked in carrots and onions until fork-tender, is both hearty yet soft and yielding. Poutine wouldn't be poutine without cheese, and Salvadoran queso fresco is what blankets this dish. While some might miss a meltier cheese, the queso fresco, which has a texture like Indian paneer, again serves to lighten matters a bit. It adds a welcome freshness and crumbly texture to the fried yucca and braised meat.
Note: while the restaurant Jaraguá is open every day, The Copper Still is not. The food can be enjoyed anytime, but you'll have to come Wednesday through Sunday if you'd like to enjoy the fine Salvadoran cuisine alongside Kwon's inventive imbibements.