El Buen Sabor Latino: Real Food Latin Style
by Chris Kulczycki
El Buen Sabor Latino is no frou-frou Tex-Mex chain restaurant. You wont find gallon-size strawberry margaritas, entrees topped with an inch of waxy cheese or cactus shaped garnishes. This is an unapologetically ethnic restaurant, Salvadorian with a little Mexican thrown in. The fare is simple, honest and cheap. Both the flavors and portions tend toward the huge, while the décor tends toward the third world.
There are but four appetizers on the menu. The papusas, thick tortillas stuffed with savory pork or cheese, are a Central American classic. Theyre served with vinegary shredded cabbage called curtido de repollo: Youll never want coleslaw again. At a dollar apiece, theyre a monumental bargain. Another winner is yuca con chicharron y curtido. Lightly fried cassava nuggets think stringy potato are served with tender little pork ribs and more of that wonderful cabbage. If your only experience with yuca is the hard French-fried chunks at lesser eateries, you must try this crisp-on-the-outside feathery-on-the-inside version. The tamal de pollo, or corn tamale stuffed with chicken, was a little bland, though nicely made, while the platanos fritos or fried plantains served with sour cream and refried beans approached sweet golden brown perfection.
For entrees the menu begins with the usual selection of quesadillas, enchiladas and burritos. The shrimp enchilada is a standout with crisp nicely spiced and sautéed shrimp. The accompanying beans werent overcooked, as is so often the case, though the yellow rice had done hard time in a steam table.
But its the Salvadorian dishes that intrigue. Carnitas con sabor Latino is under-described as Strips of grilled beef homemade style. It is tender beef perfectly marinated and served in a slightly acidic tomato sauce and topped with lightly grilled strips of crisp red bell pepper and onion. Thick homemade tortillas, perfect for soaking up sauce, as well as rice and beans accompany.
Chicharrones de costilla de cedro are the same little pork ribs that appear with the yuca appetizer served as an entrée. While they provide a pleasing counterpoint to the delicate yuca, I found this large pile a little too heavy and greasy to stand alone.
Mar y tierra combines a large grilled fish with a rather thin, though flavorful, steak. The fishs skin was crisp, salty and buttery while the flesh was moist and white. Shrimp sautéed in garlic butter and white wine should be a breeze for any place that can grill a fish this well, but the eight shrimp tasted of butter and little else. And they were slightly overcooked to boot, but the rice was faultless this time.
The plato tipico combines an enchilada, a taco and a papusa. The chicken enchilada was generously filled with white meat and topped with a cinnamon flavored sauce that almost, but not quite, made the too dry filling forgivable. The taco was perfectly charbroiled cubed beef and picco de gallo atop two soft tortillas, very authentic.
Though beer and wine arent available, there are some fun beverage choices. Try orchata, a wonderfully odd rice, milk and cinnamon concoction. Theres also coconut juice, cream soda, and various Latin and North American soft drinks; the tamarind Jaritos is especially refreshing.
Service in El Buen Sabor Latinos 12-table dining room is friendly and efficient. Our servers were happy to explain the dishes and work through the occasional language barrier. The restaurant opened only two months ago, so we could forgive the kitchens being a little uneven. Two can eat a delicious and hearty meal here for about $20. While Salvadorian might not be one of the worlds classic cuisines, El Buen Sabor Latino does a super job with it.
3145 Solomons Island Road Edgewater 410/956-0802
Proprietor: Jose Turcios
Reason to go: Where else can you explore a whole new cuisine and spend so little?
Something to think about: No burgers or fries here; youll need to be a little adventurous.