When we were first informed about the topic for this week’s blog I thought “Ohh how fun!” I knew right off the bat that I DID NOT want to go to a Mexican Restaurant. It’s not that I don’t like Mexican food, but I wanted to try something new. I decided to check out a Salvadoran Restaurant near my house in Santa Ana. It’s called El Carbonero (which means someone who works either works distributing or selling coal). Living all my life in Santa Ana, I had actually never seen this place. It is on a big street, yet it is one of those places that people don’t bother to look at while driving.
Driving into the parking lot, you can tell this place is going to be one of those hole-in-the-wall places. There are no designated parking lines, you just park anywhere you like. The pavement has huge puddles of water, and the walls surrounding the parking area are painted with colors of blue and white (like the Salvadoran flag). The car we parked next to showed the owners’ love for this country.
The restaurant itself sits next to a Latin American tienda, which sells groceries and goods from Latin America which are not easily found elsewhere.
As my fiancé and I walked into the restaurant, we were promptly greeted by a woman who stated “ Sientense en donde gusten”. We took a seat and right away and started observing the room. Circular mirrors surrounded the room and framed pictures of different locations in El Salvador, as well as large murals adorned the walls.
Before she took our orders I asked the waitress some info about the restaurant and all she told me was that the owner was born in Texas but his wife was originally from El Salvador, and that they had been in business for about 26 years. I had to stop asking questions when I got the scent of cooking meat and suddenly my mouth started watering. We ordered a Salvadoran Horchata and a Salvadoran beer called Pilsener. As a Salvadoran food newbie, I found even the horchata to taste very different. Instead of being sweet, with an aftertaste of rice, this one was not as sweet, and tasted more like corn and masa.
The first dish we ordered (we decided to share a couple of them) was Yuca Frita con Chicharron which is fried plantain with pork skins. The pork sat atop shredded cabbage, and pieces of carrot, raddish and cucumber, with the plantain pieces surrounding the dish. To be honest, this dish was not good whatsoever. Well to be fair the plantain was good, but the chicharron tasted like it was burnt and it was very hard to chew. The plantain was very bland, simple, and tasted like nothing. I did eat the shredded cabbage though.
The next dish we got was Pupusas. We got a bean and cheese one as well a Pupusa Revuelta, which is meat and cheese. To eat these you top them with what is called Curtido (a mix of cabbage and shredded carrots in liquid). The bean and cheese one was delicious, I mean I grew up eating bean and cheese burritos so there was little difference between the two. The Pupusa Revuelta was just ok. The meat was also chicharron (but this time ground), and it also gave me that charred taste like as if it was burned. The flavorful cheese drowned that taste a bit so the pupusa was not completely horrible.
For desert we ordered what is called Chilate con Nueganos y Platano dulce. It is a hot drink accompanied by fried cheese puffs and bananas drenched in a sugary sauce called Piloncillo. This dish was definitely the best part of the evening. The drink on its own was sort of like atole, yet not as sweet. The cheese puffs with bananas were to die for though. The piloncillo thrown on top of them made it almost too sweet, but combined with the Chilate made the dish the perfect combination.
As a whole, I thought this restaurant was just alright. For my first time eating Salvadoran food, the experience was not too great. But hey, I won’t completely give up on this place until I have tried it at least once more. Maybe I just got the wrong batch of chicharrones.
803 S. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701