Angelenos love chicken sandwiches. Especially the tongue-scorching hot chicken ones at Howlin’s Ray’s; the sloppy pile of cool, spicy and crunchiness from chef Kris Yembamroong’s fried chicken sandwich at Night + Market; and perhaps the one that started it all, the iconic chicken sandwich at Son of a Gun, perfectly balanced in its textures and flavors.
So perhaps Angelenos should also be crazy for El Salvador’s pan con pollo, which is a bold-flavored stewed chicken marinated in a relajo, which is a satisfying mix of chile guaque, chile ciruela, achiote, pumpkin seeds, and dried spices ground into a paste. The relajo packs a patented Salvadoran punch, and it’s best served on a hard French-style roll with mayo, watercress, tomato and cool, crisp vegetables. Compiled like this, it’s easy to understand why the pan con pollo is a classic Salvadoreños dish, especially during the holidays.
A lot of restaurants don’t give the care and attention that a sandwich like this requires, but at the western end of Slauson’s formidable street food zone has one great example of this Salvadoran comfort classic. Here, Veracruz native Vicente Gamboa and wife Liliam Villacinda, who hails from La Libertád, El Salvador, are serving the best pan con pollo in LA.
In less than a year, they’ve slowly built up a clientele hungry for traditional white beans with pork ribs, boiled chicken tamales, pupusas, and this richly-flavored pan con pollo. “More people are coming all the time, little by little,” Gamboa says. Gamboa and Villacinda’s stand boasts a half dozen unsigned tables on both sides, offering a handful of Mexican or Central-American dishes. But the dangling handwritten sign taped to a canopy advertising El Salvador’s celebrated sandwich is reason to pull over on this dusty, worn strip of auto shops, construction material warehouses, and barrier walls.
At the now-shuttered Corazon y Miel, an important restaurant in the Alta California movement, chef Eduardo Ruiz prepared a contemporary take on pan con chompipe, a turkey leg sandwich that Salvadoran side of the family served during holiday gatherings. This dish is more popular in Salvadoran homes for special occasions, made with love from recipes passed down from generations. But it’s also served at street tables by families in El Salvador willing to share their tradition with discerning customers who’ve grown up with this sandwich. Thanks to Liliam Villacinda, all Angelenos can all join in the celebration.
Ricas Pupusas Stand, off the southeast corner of W. Slauson and Menlo Ave, South Los Angeles, (323) 975-9495 or (213) 278-1034