[Hole in the Wall] Salvi Supper at Anita's
If the pupusa is king in El Salvador, then the country’s tamales fall somewhere between viscount and baron in its culinary peerage: a standard, but by no means necessary, component. Take into account the cornmeal brick’s ubiquity across the Americas, and most non-Salvadorans have probably never bothered with this country’s take on the dish.
But then you come across the tamales at Anita’s, made in the morning and available until the day’s batch is gone. They’re kept wrapped in foil, the better for the juices to keep the tamale moist and for the banana leaf that serves as the usual wrapper to impart just a dab of bitterness. A waitress presents the tamale to you slit lengthwise, as if it were a baked potato; you can easily scoop up the insides. The chicken is slightly spicy; the pork, pulled. And the tamal de elote uses sweet corn instead of what the Mexis usually use to create a hearty dessert. Don’t forget the sweet black beans and salty cream on the side—at $3.50 for the combo, it’s the new steak-and-egg breakfast.
Anita’s is a straightforward Salvadoran restaurant—no rarities on the menu, multiple scenic pictures of the patria on the wall, television battling with a cumbia-blasting jukebox for aural supremacy. The beer selection is surprisingly broad, wrangling up El Salvador’s three main brands and Guatemala’s sole homegrown brew, but I don’t drink cerveza. I start with horchata, spiked with cinnamon and a bit of chocolate, far better than the non-Oaxacan Mexican variety, or sometimes opt for a refreshing ensalada (literally “salad” in Spanish, but here a syrupy chilled beverage consisting of apple, pear, melon and bits of about three other fruits). Weekends also bring atol de elote: thick, nourishing corn gruel. Order this in about two months—it’s too hot right now.
Pupusas are mandatory, and Anita’s makes great ones—not as epic as El Chinaco’s or with the gourmet quality found at Nancy’s, but thick, sturdy discs devoid of grease and crispy on the outside. The black-beans-paired-with-chicharrón version is the best—sweet beans with sweeter pork—but the cheese’s stretchy quality means you can order those without missing the other ingredients too much. Ever wonder what exactly is the tasty herb called loroco? A helpful sign hanging near the counter explains—but you’ll have to know Spanish.
You can find Mexican touches at Anita’s, a necessity considering its hometown. All are forgettable save for the curtido, the pickled slaw that accompanies any pupusa order. I’ve never sweated while eating it until Anita’s, and now, I can’t imagine the condiment without heat. Once again, Salvadorans outdo Mexicans when it counts. Eh, we’ll get our revenge in the World Cup. . . .
Anita’s, 2317A W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 245-0538.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.