Unassuming Salvadorian Street Eats in Manhattan

La Caba�±a Salvadore�±a, a Northern Manhattan family-style eatery that serves an assortment of well-prepared Central American fare is just the kind of unassuming food establishment that Ruth Reichl, famed New York Times restaurant critic, now editor of Gourmet magazine, advocates to find room for within the stuffy world of French-dominated fine cuisine, hoping that a more egalitarian array of dining options is presented to consumers.

So don’t expect pretensions at La CabaÃ?±a SalvadoreÃ?±a. The waitresses are sweet and amiable, but you will need to exercise your Spanish vocabulary or do a good charade to communicate well with them. DÃ?©cor is utilitarian and pleasant, glass tops deep red cloths on the tables, and mirrored walls make the small dining area feel a bit roomier. A local artists’ paintings brighten other walls.

Depending on when you visit, the restaurant can seem a prayerful quiet church or festive party. I went one day between lunch and dinnertime and peacefully ate my bowl of sopa de pollo with large chunks of carrots, potato, yucca, and chicken on the bone. A squeeze of the juice from a lime wedge and a dash of Tabasco brought the dish alive like an actor on the stage. It’s heat and tangy and salty flavors blended to make the perfect dish on a cold winter’s day. A steaming-warm, fresh corn tortilla completed the hearty, fulfilling meal.

Prime mealtimes at La Caba�±a Salvadore�±a are lively and fun. Tables are filled with families and friends, their conversations contend with loud jukebox tunes or sometimes a live singer performing ballads to recorded instrumental music.

On a recent Sunday night with friends I shared a special holiday platter of seven traditional Salvadorian street treats. The open-faced fried enchiladas were my favorite, one topped with stewed chicken, the other with beef, they both had a sprinkling of a
complimentary white cheese. The pupusas are must-tries, thick cornmeal tortillas with black beans, mild white cheese or shredded pork. Grilled until warmed and lightly brown, they are best with the flavorful curtido, a Salvadorian-style sauerkraut, and a dollop of sour cream. The atole de elote, a mildly sweet corn dessert tamale, reminds me of Indian rice puddings and how they magically calm the palette after a spicy meal.

There’s much more good food to try at La CabaÃ?±a SalvadoreÃ?±a. Husband and wife owners Pedro and Juana Lozano also serve a wide selection of seafood, chicken, fish and pork entrees and soups, several typical Salvadorian egg and bean dishes, and they round out an already bountiful menu with a small selection of wines, beers, and fruit shakes and juices. The establishment’s tasty and inexpensive fare makes regulars of new customers quickly.

La Caba�±a Salvadore�±a
4384 Broadway at 187th Street
Monday through Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Friday through Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

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