Mexican restaurants dominate the Latin American food choices in San Pedro.
Besides two Salvadoran restaurants in town, other Central and South American cuisines remain painfully unrepresented. Just like me, you have probably driven past these establishments regularly. Sadly, or fortunately, it took the pandemic for me to explore these restaurants.
My introduction to Salvadoran food was through their national dish, pupusas. These are handmade round thick tortillas stuffed with cheese and other optional ingredients, then cooked on a hot griddle. They are traditionally served with red salsa and curtido, a tangy slaw made with shredded cabbage, carrots, onions, and oregano.
When visiting San Antonio Restaurant (234 N. Pacific Avenue), you will experience quick and friendly service. Although the menu offers some Mexican food options, the Salvadoran choices are the highlight of the menu. Upon sitting down, you are promptly greeted with chips and a flavorful yet spicy salsa. A visit is not complete for me without ordering the cheese and loroco pupusa. A plant native to Central America, loroco means “edible herb,” and its closed flower buds, which have a delicate taste, are predominantly used in Salvadoran cuisine. The pupusas here are mostly protein-based and reliably good. These may be the greasiest in town, but all of that is pleasingly counterbalanced with the refreshing and well-seasoned curtido and salsa.
The yuca con chicharrón is undoubtedly my go-to because it’s something that I would not replicate at home due to the amount of frying it involves. This dish features fried chunky yuca fries and cubes of pork served with slices of tomatoes and cucumbers on a bed of curtido. Both the yuca and pork are crunchy on the outside and still soft on the inside. Another fantastic option is the bistec encebollado, a flawlessly seasoned and seared thin steak topped with an abundance of grilled sweet onions. It is usually served with rice and beans, but I like it with rice and salad. All plates are served with warm corn or flour tortillas. Additionally, a must-try beverage is ensalada de fruta, a refreshing sangria-like — sans alcohol — drink made by finely dicing apples, pineapples, mango, and other less-known-to-us tropical Central American fruit, such as marañon — cashew fruit— and nance, sometimes referred to as golden or yellow cherry.
At La Cocina De Paquita (441 S. Gaffey Street), you will find a welcoming but different Salvadoran experience. The pupusas include tasty vegetable options, such as squash, spinach, chili pepper, beans, and even rice — making it ideal for non-meat eaters. I have found that they consistently have the most amount of loroco in their pupusas compared to other establishments. Here, the well-seared steak in the bistec encebollado is topped with onions and green bell peppers in a tomato sauce. The sides are rice and a salad made with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and a creamy dressing. The impressive dish for me here is the mojarra frita. Mojarra, a small saltwater fish, is stuffed with onions and aromatic herbs, then fried whole and served on a bed of rice with their side salad. What is unique to this restaurant are the homemade tortillas, served with the main dishes, which are the same size and consistency as a pupusa, minus the cheese. Traditional Salvadoran drinks on the menu include ensalada de fruta and atol de elote, a creamy corn-based drink served hot.
Both restaurants offer indoor and limited outdoor dining. At the latter, food is served in take-out containers for outdoor dining.
If you find yourself at our San Pedro Farmers Market (639 S. Beacon Street) on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., pay Pupusa Yeni a visit to try their different flavors. Besides loroco, I particularly like their cheese and jalapeño, as well as the loca, which is made with pork, beans, cheese, and jalapeños. Additionally, their agua fresca drinks are refreshing. The pupusas are packaged so that they can be enjoyed at one of the tables in the plaza or taken home. spt