Latin American appetizers star at El Salvadoreno’s food cart

08/27/2014 7:00 AM

08/28/2014 2:12 PM

On a recent Saturday morning — before a loop through the Overland Park Farmers Market to buy heirloom tomatoes and kombucha from the Broadmoor Technical Center and cranberry-walnut bread from Ibis Bakery — I stopped to browse the items listed on a chalkboard in front of El Salvadoreño’s new food cart.

The two pupusa or two pastel for $5 deal immediately caught my eye. These are the same trusty Latin American appetizers that you can order at the restaurant, but starting this summer they’re also being served from a California-style mobile food cart that features a sizzling flat-top grill, a deep fryer, steam tables and a hand-washing station.

The mobile vending setup supplements the walk-in traffic to the quaint cafe, which has offered a long picture menu of appetizers, traditional entrees and desserts in a charming space with a distinctly tropical vibe since it opened across the street from the market back in 2011.

Ninety-six percent of those who voted on Urbanspoon gave the restaurant a thumbs up, and it has a 4.5 star rating on Yelp. But why wait for people to walk through your doors to make them converts when you can bring your food to the streets?

“We’re reaching out to those who are apprehensive that all Latin American food is Mexican,” owner Benjamin Sol says. “It gives us a chance to explain our own culture.”

For example, an empanada becomes a pastel. Other items, like a pupusa, are unique to El Salvador. At any rate, combine these appetizers in twos and threes, and it’s easy to create a sort of Latin American Lunchable.

I highly recommend starting with a pupusa: the thick, handmade and griddled corn tortilla is filled with your choice of cheese, beans, shredded pork or loroco, an edible flower commonly eaten in El Salvador and similar to broccoli rabe. The pupusa comes with a side of slightly spicy cabbage slaw and a generous squirt bottle of salsa roja, a cooked tomato-based sauce.

Add another pupusa to arrive at your Five Buck Lunch, or change it up with a filled pastel, in this case a conical-shaped breaded and fried snack stuffed with ground beef or a filling of freshly shredded zucchini and carrots.

Starting in the fall, look for fried yuca, a starchy tuber similar to a potato, for $5. Meanwhile, two chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves go for $6. A traditional El Salvadoran breakfast (an egg, pureed beans, a tortilla, sweet plaintains and crema) or an 8-ounce carne asada with sides are a bump up to $8 (add an egg for another dollar). All items are gluten-free.

You can also get sweet plantains stuffed with a creamy custard then rolled in sugar for $3.50 an order.

You can take your food to go or grab a packet of plasticware and eat lunch at a nearby picnic table in the market courtyard or a table behind the wagon. That’s where I bumped into Elliot, a talkative and entertaining 5-year-old dressed in Thomas the Tank Engine bathing trunks who was eating his first-ever tamale with a spoon while playing with the piece of banana leaf folded into the foil packet it came wrapped in.

“These are good,” Elliot told me.

But soon he was ready to head for a dip in the fountains while listening to strains of Dixieland from a local band.

El Salvadoreño

7926 Santa Fe Drive

Overland Park

913-871-6165

Hours: Cart is open 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays until Nov. 22 and 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every other Wednesday (Sept. 3 and 17) at the Overland Park Farmers Market.

Parking: Street parking

Don’t-miss dish: Pupusas and pastels, two for $5.

Seating: Take your food to go, or eat in the market courtyard.

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