Sabor, Central American Cuisine, not just about pupusas

We once had a brilliant postdoc who had a ham and cheese sandwich every day for lunch, and often for dinner. This went on for years, and then he switched to ramen for awhile, but it had too much salt, so he went back to ham and cheese. I have no idea if he’s still on ham and cheese. We kidded him about it, of course. His defense was that he thought about eating other things, but nothing seemed as pleasing as a great ham and cheese sandwich. Mind you, this we not acorn fed ham, or well-aged cheddar, nothing like that.

Some flavors are so perfect together, it just seems hard to imagine anything else as good. Pupusas and curtido are like that. The Salvadoreñan pupusa is a thick tortilla stuffed with something, often cheese and loroco and served hot with a side of curtido, that yummy barely cooked cabbage, carrot, vinegar salad. You put the cabbage on top of the pupusa, and eat it. The cool vinegary taste of the curtido drips down in your mouth as the aroma of the corn and cheese waft upwards. The cheese fondly greets your fat sensors, oozing along. I love them even though I didn’t get to know this culinary treat until well into adulthood.

But it seems unfair to judge a full restaurant just by the culinary wonder that are pupusas, so we ordered some plates of food as well. For once we had remembered to bring our own left over containers, so we wouldn’t have to use disposables. I hope I didn’t embarrass Dave or Danny too much. The agua de tamarindo is my new index item for Latin American restaurants. It should be sour, not too sweet, and not too dilute. The indescribably delicious flavor of the tamarindo should come through. It is made from the sticky stuff that surrounds the seeds in the pod, and is brown, from a legume tree. The seeds aren’t used and often have beetles in them. I’ve made the agua and getting the sticky stuff off the seeds and away from the pod coating is a pain. It seems so Mexican to me, but is originally from Africa, and was introduced into Mexico with the Spaniards.

Sabor, 5710 Bellaire Bvd, had great agua de tamarindo, I’d give it an 8.5, higher than Gorditata Aguascalientes, for thicker, more sour, but maybe this just varies according to where they are in the large glass container.

So, how about the main courses? I got the Salvadoran plate, with beef, a sausage, rice and beans mixed, pico de gallo, salad, 2 thick tortillas. Dave got some carne desebrada in a kind of sauce, and Danny got the beef and onions. I’d have to say the grilled beef with my plate was the best. They call it fajita, but it isn’t. It is a thin, tough, very flavorful piece of beef I used to think could only be obtained in Latin America where the cattle were out in the pastures. Danny’s beef wasn’t too good, had hints of liver. Dave’s was soupy and a little insipid, but not bad, just not so fabulous as mine (yes, I did share). Danny didn’t much like his horchata, and it did settle to the bottom, so maybe he should have ordered the tamarindo.

The place was nearly empty at 7:30 on a Wednesday, so the Latin atmosphere had to come mostly from the TV. The server was delightful, very friendly, came over several times, could not stop smiling, perhaps at my Spanish. Oh, and there were advertisements in the menu! Check it out!


Sabor is in a little mall with a lot of empty stores.


I wonder what my favorite airline pays for this ad placement, complete with subjunctive?


There it is, the delicious pupusa, oozing cheese, and curtido in the bowl.


Danny’s beef and onions.


Dave’s shredded beef.


My delicious Salvadoran plate had a sausage on top of the beef.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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