Sunday, September 12, 2010
1326 Antioch Pike
We’re convinced that some of the best food in town is found in the most modest of surroundings. We’re talking about restaurants that have sketchy hand painted signs out front and an inhospitable façade. That’s why we’re here, dear readers, to open that door and find out what’s inside. We’re pleased to report that despite the lack of appearances outside, inside at La Esquina you’ll find a bright black and white themed dining room with seven tables and some of the friendliest ladies this side of El Salvador. Best of all they’re cooking up quality El Salvadoran cuisine.
Okay, so English at La Esquina is a bit of a problem. Just make sure you know what you want and then point. Everything is done in little portions and for small prices. The crema and corn tamales are a little sweet and quite dense. Get two or three because they might not last long on the table. They are excellent. Casamiento is Salvadoran black beans and rice and at La Esquina it’s studded with corn and has a lovely flavor for a sticky and rich side dish. The fried plantains may be some of the best in the city. We think that perhaps a pan fry technique is what caramelizes these tender beauties to a perfect chewy-crispy consistency.
Chicken comes several ways. Pan con pollo is stewed chicken in a flavorful, savory sauce mounded inside a hoagie style bun. Colorful slices of vinegar carrot and turnip top the sandwich. Pollo con arroz is a simple roasted chicken quarter, on this day a tad overdone, with stewed onions that harkens back to the pan con pollo sauce. The rice itself is well cooked and studded with corn, beans and peas. It’s a rather laid back partner for the chicken which also calls on a small salad of precisely cut veggies.
La Esquina is a pupuseria and the pupusas do not disappoint. These are thick masa rounds with plenty of melty cheese. Let’s pause for a moment to complain about chicharron, not the La Esquina chicharron; it’s plenty good in that pupusa. Rather our issue is that the term can be used to describe 3 or 4 varieties of pork. While the term means fried pork, it’s most often used to describe fried pig skin and you get plenty of that around town. However, at a taco joint it might be more like fried pork belly and in the case of La Esquina the fried pork is diced into microscopic pieces and spread through the pupusa.
Watch out for thin verde sauce: on one visit it had eye watering kick on another perhaps a bit more restraint. The rojo is tasty and much more manageable. For whatever reason, these sauces can change visit to visit. On one day the rojo was almost like a thin tomato sauce.
The prices make mixing the matching easy. It’s about $2 for the pupusas, $1.50 for those tamales and similarly cheap for the other items. Of course it could be easy to order too much food. Be prepared to walk out with change in your pocket.
Veggie Eater: The pupusas offer quite a few veggie friendly combinations and epitomize comfort food at its best. These are clearly homemade and made to order (you can hear them pounding out the dough for each order). The frijoles and queso version have little black beans blanketed in queso. The loroco queso version has a little more zippiness (loroco is a native El Salvadoran plant used as an herb). You then generously adorn these with the curtido slaw to add acid and crunch to balance out the ooey gooey pupusa. Then top generously with the salsa verde or salsa rojo (I of course opted for the fiery green sauce). We had mom along for one of the visits and although she is a meat eater and enjoyed her chicken dishes, what she was really smitten with was the pupusas. Extremely friendly staff (I assume daughter to the mom cooking in the back) and a warm vibe in this place. On our second visit there were gringo families, Latino’s, and gay folks all happily munching away (journalists don’t assume anyone is anything without asking-M.E.)
Meat Eater: A packed dining room on one Sunday showed that this is indeed a neighborhood favorite we quite the mix of families and patrons. We couldn’t help but eye the pretty breakfast plates coming out of the kitchen. The huevos appear to be a definite item to consider next time we visit.
We paid $16 with tax and tip on one visit for a bunch of food for two people. On our second visit we had three people for a total of $35 and a lot of food.