The evening began with a pretty perfect bike ride up and down Lamar Avenue and then west to Metcalf Avenue.
Not surprisingly, we found ourselves winding our ride down near Downtown Overland Park surrounded by the usual watering holes.
Luckily for us, we couldn’t decide on where to stop to grab a bite and a brew as our spokes spun past a quaint Central American store front at 7926 Santa Fe Drive that is home to El Salvadoreño.
“How about here?” My friend asked as her bike was seemingly being drawn in by the authentic music spilling out of this urban, ethnic find.
After reading their accolades on Yelp and Urbanspoon, we learned we were not the only passersby who have been slaves to this Latino spell.
Quite honestly we didn’t expect much, especially after we were approached by the astute Anglo server named John who greeted us and looked like he had just left the set of The Truman Show. Little did we know, we were in for a very pleasant surprise.
As it turns out, John is the brother-in-law of the chef and owner Blanca Alvarenga and very knowledgeable of Salvadoreño fare.
He walked us through the menu and encouraged us to order the Sampler Platter which, as he explained, has a small version of everything on the first page of the menu.
I rubbed my hands together, scooted my chair in, looked at my friend and said, “Let’s do this.”
The appetizer, which served as a perfect tapas tasting for two, included five dishes that are apparent staples in El Salvadorian cuisine:
• El Pastele — a perfectly fried dough which contained carrot, potato, chilés and braised beef with a light sauce that was undoubtedly the result of this combination being slowly melted together with the patience, discipline and passion that only a native could convey.
• Next to that was a Papusa — a griddled soft corn shell filled with cheese and the pedals of the flower Foroco. We looked at each other nodding constantly as we savored each bite. The hand made papusa paired with the sweet and slightly floral notes of the loroco were pure incentive to book a trip to the small, coastal Latin American country.
• The Enchilada — not at all what you would find from its neighbors to the north. This was more like a tostada of sorts. A fry bread that was topped with roasted chicken that was stewed in their house-made salsa, shaved radish, pickled beets and hard-boiled egg. It was our favorite on the plate and boasted so many flavors and textures, I found myself eating more of it just to figure it out.
• “Tamale Extraordinaire” — riddled with braised pork and its rendering sauce this was, by far, the best tamale I have had in this town, hands down. The masa wrapping is much thicker than the Mexican version of this Latino staple and finer ground than Honduran tamales I have had and the pork melted in my mouth like a well crafted piece of chocolate.
• Lastly, the Yucca Frita — topped with a spicy cabbage slaw called “Curtido” and, of course, chicharones. The yucca, although a very starchy vegetable was perfectly crispy and the sweetness of it was brazenly balanced with the sharp acidity in the slaw.
We were offered dessert but were somewhat over stimulated and still had a few miles to go on our journey home but we will definitely be back with more friends, empty stomachs and a greater curiosity for the rest of the menu. I encourage you to do the same.
El Salvadoreño can be found on the Internet via itsFacebook
Chef Kelli Daniels is owner and operator of Good You Mobile Vending and Catering, as well as the chief dishwasher, a restaurant consultant, sister, daughter, a lover and a fighter, metro cyclist, socialite, epicurean and drinker of strong coffee .