Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: El Cuscatleco - A Salvadoran Eye Opener

Yesterday, a Sunday, about 5 pm, returning home along I-40 from the grand-girls dance recital in Smithfield (too cute for words), Laura and I were well beyond peckish. I found a discount coupon (one day expired) for El Cuscatleco (pronounced just like it looks -- but get ready for the second-to-last syllable *TLECK*) and figured it was on the way home off US-Hwy 15-501. Not much open on Sunday night but they are.
Their place is located in a low brick building set back from the street with parking in front. Just east of 15-501 at 4212 Garrett Rd. Durham NC
They have an extensive menu, including slo-n-lo dishes such as beef stews. They feature Salvadoran dishes, and the place is finished with many Salvadoran flags, folk artifacts and assorted chatzkes and chazarei. Prominent are the drink specials (Monday, Margaritas at 1.50!). We appeared to be the only non-Salvadorans there. Things seemed pretty busy for a Sunday night. Mostly, families with kids dining out.
The salsa and tortilla chips complimentary starters featured a delicious fresh tomato salsa with a nice kick. All their dishes strike you with their freshness and wholesomeness. Laura ordered the grilled bistek in the house marinade (a flavorsome skirt, $9.95) . Savory and sweet, citrus-based with a bit of heat. Luscious fresh salad of tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, onions and sour cream to top the tortillas. The Salvadoran tortillas were very different from Mexican ones. Thick, steamy, and fragrant with deep corn goodness. Fine renderings of arroz and frijoles refrito on the side as usual.
Mojarra frita
My entree was the mojarra frita, a whole fried fish, in this case, tilapia. The fish is simply scored deeply to admit the hot fat, dusted in flour and seasonings, and deep fried. A beautiful presentation on a huge platter. I ate less than half, and took home a box heavy with leftovers. The fish was moist, sweet, and nicely seasoned. Tilapia is mild and benefits from a bit of cayenne and cumin. The sides were the same as Laura's. Also, $9.95.
We both enjoyed a Negra Modelo ($3), served with the obligatory lime wedge and a nicely frosted mug. The beer was not too cold and tasted perfect with the food.
The atmosphere was festive with the typical confused assault of the three - THREE - different TVs, and non-stop Hispanic singing (which I enjoy) from a CD player somewhere, but conversation was not strained. Service was friendly, attentive, and competent. They did accept the expired coupon and the owner welcomed us to return with the spare expired coupon. He told me they have been at that location 10 years! Under the radar. They had a second place on N. Roxboro Rd in Durham but it has closed.
A truly wonderful meal. 3-1/2 stars, one dollar sign.