Pan con pavo
Mi Ranchito Salvadoreno is one of those restaurants where if you walk through the door, they'll assume you speak Spanish even if you look like a flaming gringo (I love Van Nuys). A jukebox blares an array of tunes (all in Spanish) and two small televisions play the Latino equivalent of MTV (and the volume isn't turned down, which can create cacophony with the jukebox if you're sitting near a TV). The restaurant is small with lots of booths and a few well-spaced tables. Colorful paint and plentiful beer signage are the main decorations. Even though the music is painfully loud and the decor is almost garish, the overall effect is festive and cheery. We had plenty of time to soak it all in since we ordered takeout and our food took forever.
Sometimes the problem with making a sandwich that you don't have to eat is that, in an attempt to be generous, you overload the sandwich to the point where it cannot actually be eaten as a sandwich. I used to work for a sandwich shop, so I would know. I ordered the pan con pavo, a Salvadoran turkey sandwich, since Evan Kleiman raved about them once on Good Food. I didn't see what the big deal was: the sandwich consisted of fatty turkey (gross), mayonnaise-soaked lettuce, mealy tomatoes, radishes, carrots, and slightly pickled bell peppers. The bread was soggy from all the mayo, and the sandwich was enormous, so I picked at it with a fork for a while then ended up tossing most of it.
Deep fried sweet corn tamale
One strike against the restaurant was that they got my tamale order wrong. I ordered sweet corn tamales with crema, not deep fried sweet corn tamales with no crema. It was interesting to try the deep fried tamales, which were a novelty to me, but with no crema they were really too dry. They also weren't very sweet.
The marinated sirloin steak ($9.95) was passable but not excellent. It wasn't very tender and was a bit overcooked. There was some fatty bits, but less than you'll usually get when you order a restaurant steak that isn't an expensive cut. The meat was on the dry side (probably due to overcooking) and tasted better with some hot sauce added at home.
We ordered four pupusas: queso, calabaza, mexicana, and chicharrones. I was a little put off by the pupusas because they were incredibly greasy and because I think they either gave is the wrong pupusa instead of the calabaza or didn't describe it accurately on the menu. I was expecting pureed pumpkin or squash, and I got cheese with what appeared to be very mild peppers. Hmm. Maybe they meant to write "flor de calabaza" (squash blossoms) on the menu? The mexicana consisted of cheese and fantastically spicy peppers, the queso was nondescript, and the chicharrones, described on the menu as deep fried pork, was stuffed with deliciously moist shredded pork. To me, pupusas on their own are a little too salty and one dimensional, but add curtido (imagine a mayo-free lovechild of American coleslaw and Korean kimchee) and you've got one tasty treat where soft, warm, salty and gooey meet cold, sweet, spicy and crunchy.
Carne asada tacos
The interesting thing about these tacos is that they come in thick, pupusa-like tortillas. However, they're on the expensive side for tacos ($2.50 each) and on the dry and not-so-spicy side for carne asada. Also, there wasn't any salsa for the tacos and the onion chunks were too big (raw onion gets overpowering fast). Argh.
The horchata wasn't what I expected--instead of being white, it was brown, and had a sort of nutty, toasty, bitter flavor. I enjoyed it, but I still prefer Mexican horchata.
I might have been able to forgive an imperfect order if I didn't speak fluent Spanish and hadn't written down my entire order. The combination of an incredibly long wait time for our food, not getting everything right, forgetting our horchatas, and subpar food didn't exactly impress me. I won't be going back.
Mi Ranchito Salvadoreno
Van Nuys, CA
Tags: Los Angeles Van Nuys Salvadoran Food