Salvadoran food is not very familiar to me--I've only had it one other time, at La Curva in east LA. At La Curva, I got an introduction to the types of seafood dishes that are commonly eaten on the coast, but I had yet to try the most well-known of Salvadoran dishes--the pupusa.
Our meal started with thick, crispy tortilla chips and a rather bland salsa, but I didn't despair over the salsa. I had a good feeling about the place, and I tend to agree with Meyers-Briggs' opinion that I'm rather intuitive.
Mi Casita Salvadorena is very low budget. The all-brown decor hasn't been updated since the seventies, but at least the savings get passed along to the customer: a meal for two here will only run you about $20 including tax and tip. It's a good thing, too, since they only take cash. The sunlight that streams in through the windows and a wall of trophies help brighten the otherwise drab interior.
Unlike so many Los Angeles restaurants, Mi Casita Salvadorena's ample tables are comfortably spaced--just one of the Valley's many unsung benefits. You seat yourself, but it's probably a good idea to alert a server to your presence when you arrive. Service is a little slow, but in that made-to-order food kind of way.
The beef empanadas were unlike the Argentinian empanadas I've eaten (and definitely unlike the Oaxacan variety) in the consistency of the dough. These were very deep fried and extra crispy on the outside. The beef filling was tender, moist, and richly flavored. While many places engage in the ridiculous practice of charging extra for avocado, Mi Casita Salvadorena included a generous chunk along with with the other veggies that came on the side of this dish.
Sweet white corn tamales with sour cream
I usually don't care for tamales, but these sweet corn tamales are the best I've ever had. The tang of the accompanying sour cream was a perfect match that prevented the dish from being excessively sweet. The dishes don't match at this restaurant, but it's kind of charming.
Having never eaten or even seen a pupusa before, much like Pam of Daily Gluttony, I went into this experience with no expectations. I tried the cheese pupusa with flor de izote and the beef pupusa. Pupusas are sort of like a cross between a tortilla and pita bread. They contain a filling and are mysteriously sealed up so that you can't tell how the filling got into the dough. They're also a great deal at just a little over a dollar each and offer a better quantity to price ratio than even some tacos. I love saving money.
Flor de izote is the national flower of El Salvador and grows on yucca plants. It's supposed to have a slightly bitter taste and maintain a slight crunch even after being cooked, but I didn't really notice it in the pupusa at all. I found both pupusas to be too salty, and after having spent a considerable amount of time in Spain I must say that my salt tolerance is very high. Overall I really like the pupusa concept--their warm, soft consistency makes for great comfort food. I think they may be meant for dipping in salsa or topping with curtido, but I'm not sure--they easily stand on their own.
Curtido looks like coleslaw, but I greatly prefer it to American slaw due to its lack of mayonnaise. Turns out it's spicy pickled cabbage. I didn't know what I was supposed to do with it, though--was it a condiment? A salad?
You're not here for the decor
A plethora of televisions and a few happy hour specials make Mi Casita Salvadorena a promising place to watch a game. I felt a little out of place as the only white customer, but no one at the restaurant made an issue of it. The restaurant is almost too quiet at times, but those times are a welcome respite from the much-too-loud jukebox (I wasn't even sitting near a speaker).
Finding an undiscovered gem in Los Angeles seems like an impossible mission, and one at which I have failed on several occasions. This time, though, I think I'm on to something. Though the restaurant was nearly empty, the tamales and empanadas were excellent and the prices were low. A slow, but steady stream of customers trickled in and out while we ate. They even have a parking lot. I would definitely go here again, though I'd prefer to take my food with me and eat it in my non-brown living room.
Mi Casita Salvadorena
14860 Vanowen Street
Van Nuys, CA 91405