Feed a girl a pupusa and all of a sudden she has pupusas on the brain. Two weeks ago I wrote about the pupusas served at La Zacatecana, the Mexican/Honduran/Salvadoran kitchen operated out of the grocery of the same name on Commercial Avenue. I liked La Z's bean-and-cheese version of the typical Salvadoran stuffed cornmeal pancake well enough, but wondered how they stack up against other pupusas.
I figured out pretty quickly when I tried to make pupusas myself that they're trickier than they look. I followed a recipe, but my dough (a simple mix of masa harina and water) was leaden and my ratio of filling to dough was all off. Also, a pretty hot griddle is necessary to obtain a properly crisp exterior to the cake.
While I was in Milwaukee over the weekend for a family event, I ended up making a detour to the El Salvador Restaurant in Milwaukee's Lincoln Village neighborhood. Sunday was a beautiful day to be in Lincoln Village, even though a brisk wind was whipping in off Lake Michigan. Lincoln Village is a largely Hispanic area that runs from abound the area of the magnificent Victorian-era Forest Home Cemetery to Sixth Street, where you'll find the national landmark Basilica of St. Josaphat.
The El Salvador Restaurant is right across the street from the Basilica. If you drive down Lincoln from the cemetery, on the way you'll pass Kosciuszko Park, a pretty urban green space. The neighborhood was busy at noon on Sunday with people going to Mass, playing in the park, skateboarding, bicycling and just enjoying the first day of spring. The place had that big city vibe that's impossible to muster up in Madison.
The El Salvador has a small, neat dining room in a building that used to be a house, with large windows and lots of colorful tile. The menu has two pages devoted to Salvadoran food and another for the standard Mexican tacos, burritos, et. al. A flat screen television (does every restaurant now have a flat screen T.V.?) was playing -- blasting, really -- a show called Entertainment as a Second Language (described as "What happens when you mix salsa dancing with Beyoncé, Spanish lessons with Steve Carell, and a Sexy Movimiento performance by Wisin y Yandel?").
The Salvadoran breakfast came with choice of eggs, refried beans, crema, fried plantains and tortillas. The eggs -- scrambled, in my case -- were fine, not overcooked, chopped into little cubes. But the eggs are not the stars of the show. Here the beans were very good, as good a refried bean as I've ever had: a smooth, spicy black/brown blend that wasn't too dry and not at all soupy. The crema, likewise, was silky smooth. The fried plantains were heavenly, sweetly caramelized on the outside.
Salvadoran tortillas are more like cornmeal pancakes than their Mexican counterparts (basically unstuffed pupusas). And, of course, I did order a side of pupusas, one stuffed with beans and the other with cheese, which came with a big bowl of curtido (a spicy, vinegary cabbage slaw) and two squeeze bottles of sauce, one red, one green.
El Salvador's pupusas were a little lighter in texture than La Zacatecana's, but the curtido was virtually the same. Put some slaw on top of the pupusa, douse with hot sauce and you're set.
There was much more on the menu that I would love to try on a return visit. I was most curious about a drink diners at other tables were getting, served in a large pitcher, which appeared to be lemonade with pico de gallo suspended in it.
Is it worth the trip? If you're looking to get out of town and want to head down I-94 to Milwaukee, Lincoln Village, Forest Home, the Basilica and El Salvador make for a great day trip. It's just three miles from the Mitchell Park Domes, too.
El Salvador Restaurant
2316 S. 6th St., Milwaukee