San Salvador Sells the Breakfast of Salvis

We're blessed with many great breakfast traditions, both singular and cultural—chilaquiles and breakfast burritos, the Sugar Shack's Surf City pick-me-ups, and the glories of Break of Dawn. But one breakfast that doesn't get nearly enough attention is a Salvadoran desayuno, as filling and complete a meal as whatever the $5 special is at Norms. It is a straightforward combo plate: an egg cooked your way, a blotch of black beans snug against rice, with sweet sour cream and a block of tangy cotija cheese at the edge of the plate. There'll be fried plantains, of course, and squat Salvadoran-style tortillas on the side that you don't roll up but rather tear into little edible shovels. And that's it: Almost all the major food groups doing a satisfying cumbia across your palate and gut, it's a meal fit for the hard day's work ahead of you, humble and unassuming—the Ford Ranger of the breakfast world.

Just as unassuming is San Salvador, a strip-mall treasure in a stretch of Fountain Valley's section of Harbor Boulevard more famous for hosting the very affordable Animal Medical Center pet clinic. As at nearly every Salvadoran restaurant in the county, the majority of dishes on its large menu is Mexican—and as at every Salvadoran restaurant in the county, ignore those throwaways. Start with pupusas, of course—griddled nicely, thick and wide, accompanied by both the bland tomato salsa that customarily accompanies pupusas and a spicier Mexican cousin that is a worthy topper to the spicier-than-usual curtido. You can get all the other favorites of the Salvadoran kitchen here: gnarled logs of yuca either fried or steamed, golden-fried empanadas bulging with scalding pieces of ground beef. The salpicón, a ground-beef salad served cold with rings of raw onion, then doused in lime juice, jolts as though you are licking a 9-volt battery. But it's that Salvadoran breakfast that shines, making the drive to that forlorn section of Harbor, far away from freeways and anything else worthwhile, worth it.

Oh, and wash anything down with the ensalada, the Salvadoran version of fruit punch: pineapple juice spiked with apple slices, orange chunks, marañon (the Central American term for a cashew apple, whatever the hell that is. It's tart and light) and whole nance, a curious yellow fruit the size of an olive that tastes like a cross between pear and custard. Only nuoc mia refreshes more than San Salvador's ensalada, and though the cold season is upon us, anyone who needs instant sunshine must imbibe this. And don't worry about the fruit bits that'll clog up your straw—that's what God made toothpicks for!


This column appeared in print as “Breakfast of Salvis.”

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