South of the border

In case you missed it, here is my review of El Migueleño that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

All too often, the food of Central and South America gets scuttled under the questionable umbrella of “Latin” fare.

While various cuisines south of the border rely on many of the same ingredients and may even share similar dishes, the variety of food from the tropical Americas is actually astounding.

Around here, Mexican food is most common, but if you look closely, you can find specialties from other Latin American countries, such as El Salvadoran food at Seaside’s El Migueleño.

El Migueleno features many El Salvadoran specialties on their menu.

It had been years — going on 10, maybe more — since I had last eaten at El Migueleño, so when my friend texted me last week to find out what I thought of this restaurant, I figured I’d go one better than sending her my recommendation; we made a date for dinner here a couple days later.

We started with some traditional El Salvadoran dishes — pupusas, yuca and tamales.

The pupusas — stuffed masa fritters — come in three combinations: pork and cheese, bean and cheese, or loroco and cheese ($1.75 each). We ordered two of the three combinations.

Pupusa party!

The pupusas were fried lightly enough that they aren’t too greasy. They were packed with filling. The bean and cheese was pretty popular at our table, but I actually preferred the loroco pupusa. The loroco — a Central American vine — gave a hint of earthy flavor.

Yuca — probably better known as cassava or manioc — is common in Central American cuisine. The yuca frita appetizer ($6.95) included chunks of yuca root, lightly fried and served with chicharrones.

The yuca frita was a little dry, but accompanied by a spicy salsa.

The yuca was a little dry — it needed a sauce to cut some of the dry starch. The accompanying salsa was too watery, so it didn’t quite do the trick. (Though it was quite spicy — always a plus in my book.)

We ordered both of the El Salvadoran tamales — a tamal de gallina and a tamal de elote ($1.95 each).

The masa was light and crumbly on both. The tamal de gallina was stuffed with shredded chicken and chunks of potato, then topped with a spicy salsa. It was moist and flavorful.

The El Salvadoran tamales were great, especially the sweet corn tamal de elote (right).

But my favorite was the tamal de elote — a sweet tamal made by mixing the masa with sweet corn. This dish walked that fine line between sweet and savory — it was a great appetizer, but could work equally well as a light dessert.

For my entree I ordered the enchiladas verdes — served with a green tomatillo sauce and topped with sour cream and avocado — with rice and beans ($7.95).

The enchiladas were stuffed with a generous amount of shredded chicken. The chicken was nicely seasoned, but a little tough.

A generously sized entree of enchiladas verdes made for a steal of a meal.

The tomatillo sauce was light in flavor, and I appreciated the sour cream and avocado on top, which gave the dish that little something extra.

The other entrees around the table were likewise well received. All were filling, yet reasonably priced. The filete Migueleño ($10.95) was a favorite, served with a sizable piece of flavorful fish.

We wanted to try the traditional El Salvadoran desserts — empanadas de platano ($1.95) and nueganos (sweet yuca fritters, $1.95).

But when we found out they were sold out of empanadas for the evening, we took it as a sign to skip dessert tonight. (Actually a bit of a relief considering how stuffed we already were.) I’ll definitely have to save room for a proper dessert next time.

With many entrees priced around $10 — or even less — El Migueleño was a great value. Sure, atmosphere and service were a little rough around the edges, but there’s a certain charm in those shops tucked away off the beaten path.

El Migueleño might not be the most refined, but what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in character.

El Migueleño is at 1066 Broadway Ave. in Seaside. 899-2199. www.yelp.com/biz/el-migueleno-restaurant-seaside.

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