Worth a Second Look
The Cuisine: Salvadoran
The Place: El Pulgarcito
Carne asada tacos in handmade corn tortillas El Pulgarcito are good, but Salvadoran specialties like pupuses are your best bet.
In Charlotte, Little El Salvador occupies half a city block. Gathered around a single parking lot are Salvadoran stores, bakeries, and restaurants with neon signs advertising the country’s national food—the pupusa.
On a friend's recommendation, we picked a restaurant called El Pulgarcito de America. The interior resembles an old diner, with vinyl booths a little the worse for wear. Our waitress was friendly and attentive, although her command of English was limited. Pictures next to each menu item help resolve potential language barriers.
The restaurant also serves a full Mexican and Honduran menu, but we chose to stick with the Salvadoran specialties. We were not disappointed. Pupusas turn out to be thick, handmade corn tortillas stuffed with beans, cheese, or pork. They are round—about the same size and color as an English muffin. The bean and pork pupusa is superbly tender, while the cheese-filled variety is somewhat bland. Both benefit from the accompanying tomato-based salsa.
Salvadoran food, by and large, is not spicy—the hottest item we tried was the coleslaw, a side dish for most items. A plantain-filled empanada is sweet and tender. The chicken tamale comes wrapped in a banana leaf, with a rich, brothy flavor and melting texture. We did not believe the plain corn tamale could surpass it until we tried it—sweet, almost like corn pudding, with a tangy sour cream sauce that complements it perfectly. Chicharrones (chunks of pork fried at high temperature) are crispy, succulent, and dangerously addictive—although some pieces are excessively fatty. Beverages include a selection of Latin American beers (along with a few domestics) and bebidas naturales made from tropical fruits like tamarind and mango.
While I am intrigued by the other places on the block, I may have to come back to El Pulgarcito a few more times before venturing further.
4816 Central Ave.
$-$$, L.D. Daily