By Jay Bennett
I'd been curious about trying Eliana's Authentic Salvadoran Cuisine ever the since the first time I drove by the place on 24th Street just north of McDowell. I love Mexican food and assumed that the food of El Salvador would be just as good. Of course, El Salvador is situated nowhere near the northern Mexican states of Sonora and Michoacan and Sinaloa, creators of much of the Mexican food that we know and love.
Still, there were similarities, especially in the names of entrees such as carne asada and fajitas de camarón and drinks such as horchata.
The restaurant has been around for a couple of decades now, as evidenced by the reprinting of a New Times review of Eliana's that dates back to 1991, written by someone named Penelope Corcoran. Well, ol' Penelope really dug the place back in the day. I found it to be decent, probably a worth a trip just for the novelty, but not amazing.
The menu seemed a little tired, as if the Eliana's gang were making the exact same meals back in 1991 as they are today, without many tweaks or improvements.
The building was probably a DQ Brazier or Wendy's in a previous life, but it is clean and cheerful inside now, thanks to colorful decorations from the homeland and lots and lots of hanging plants (a nice touch).
The drinks were very good. One, called ensalada, was a sort of delicious fruit punch with chunks of fruit in it. The horchata was unlike the Mexican horchata we're used to. It was brown-colored, wasn't nearly as sweet, and had a mocha-like taste. That must've been due to the marrow seeds in it. I had no idea what marrow seeds were, but I do now. According to one Web site, they're good for the prostate and promote craftiness.
I ordered the pasteles de salvadoreños de carne appetizer, a deep-fried treat filled with potatoes, carrots, and little chunks of beef. To me, it was like a Hot Pocket crossed with a pot pie. Not bad at all.
I was a little disappointed by my entree, the carne asada con chimol, a piece of broiled flank steak with sautéed onions and a little dish of beans and peppers. The piece of meat wasn't the greatest and the tropical spices that were promised on the menu seemed non-existent. Therefore, it was kinda bland. Even the fresh pico de gallo couldn't do much to amp up this plate. Of course, I still ate it all up, because I was taught as a kid to be a member of the Clean Plate Club.
Carne asada: More tropical spices, por favor.
The missus ordered the fajitas de camarón, which was a better choice. The shrimp were perfectly grilled and plentiful, as well. The plate came with thick, homemade tortillas and a bean purée that really helped make the dish something more interesting than it could've been. Still, not quite a home run.
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The fajitas: Not quite a homer. More like a stand-up triple. (Photos by Laura Hahnefeld)
The menu is small, which I like, and very affordable. Every entree is about $9 or $11. But if you're gonna have a small menu, everything on it had better be killer. I'd like to try some of the fish platters on the menu if I go back.
By the way, if you've got restaurants in mind that would make for a cool Budget Beat write-up, I'd love to hear from you. Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eliana's Authentic Salvadoran Cuisine 1627 North 24th Street 602-225-2925