I think there is a misconception out there that a meal must be expensive to be decent. I find that if the chef is passionate and well trained (even if by his Italian Grandmother) the food is a culinary pleasure.
Many people only go to high end restaurants to explore their palettes. I am all for the $100 meal, eat them often, but we need to lend ourselves to food exploration. That means, stepping outside the status quo (because the status is not quo) and trying an ethnic restaurant. Nouveau cuisine is so beautifully arranged on a plate, you know that someone’s fingers have been all over it. Some of the best food that has entered my mouth came from small restaurants with a chef that was pouring his soul into the food.
This week I had a spectacular meal in Santa Maria at a Salvadoran restaurant called Las Comadres. Located on Main Street (just a block from the mall), this was like leaving the country without a passport. The TV blared Spanish language soap operas; stunning tapestries illustrated street life in El Salvador and signs on the wall told Papa’s to control their children. The cooks were as authentic looking as the cerveza signs stating beer keeps away sadness. The menu is in Spanish, and no one there spoke English, but the pictures on the menu got us ordering. We started with chips, salsa, and a Salvadorian beer, Cerveza Suprema. Gary order the Platano con miel and crema, which is a tropical plantain (brother to the banana) sautéed then covered with maple syrup and sour cream. Usually ordered at the end of the meal, this exotic blending of flavors was just right. That dessert first rule was fun to translate.
The house specialty is Pupusas, a dish like no other and one of my most desired ethnic food. A pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade maze tortilla that is usually filled with a blend of cheese, cooked pork meat ground to a paste consistency, refried beans, or queso con loroc. But they can be stuffed with anything. They are fried and served like an extra thick tortilla. You then put the cabbage and onion mixture (called curdido) on them, sprinkle the Salvadoran tomato sauce and pick them up like a taco to engorge yourself. We started with the Revueltas, which had chicharrion, cheese, and beans. I did the Loroco, which is cheese, a unique Salvadoran flower ground and pushed into the Pupusas. Our favorite was a Queso Con Calabaza, a cheese and zucchini mix.
Los Comadres also has homemade tamales that you can order in combination with the Pupusas, along with plantains and rice and beans. Everything on the menu was outstanding and so reasonably priced, I felt like I was stealing. They also do catering, so you can order 20 Pupusas with rice and beans for your next party. I did this once for a party that we ate at the beach over a bonfire, and our friends are still talking about that exceptional meal.
Los Comadres is located at 202 West Main Street in Santa Maria, they are open everyday from 10:00 am until 9:00 pm, and phone is (805) 928-8566.