Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pupuseria El Salvador La Original, 4639 S Division Ave ~ 1/20/15

Driving south on Division Avenue is always an interesting ride and we've discovered some unique little restaurants doing that. But someone mentioned this place to us (thanks, Sarah Scott!) so today we drove down Division with a specific destination in mind. And we missed it the first time. One our way back north, we spotted the sign and turned in to find the small, set-back restaurant.
We weren't sure at first if it was counter-service only so stood about for a minute or two trying to figure it out. A friendly man soon greeted us and told us to sit wherever we would like and he warned against sitting by the windows. Good advice as we froze anyway away from the windows but it was a bitterly cold day.
The restaurant felt small at first with booths crammed everywhere but when we did some calculating, it appears the space could hold upwards of 50 people. Ten booths are back to back with each other and there are five smaller tables and chairs along the side wall. Today we shared the place with one lone soul.
A large menu is posted on the wall but our server also brought us the huge 9-page menus to peruse. Some items are described in Spanish & English, others just in Spanish but there are pictures galore. It was difficult to make a decision with so many choices. And for those of you looking for breakfast choices, if you can wait until 10 or 11am to eat, there is a full page of breakfast selections whose descriptions were very tempting. Other than the menus, there was very little wall art, this being one exception.
Our server was patient as our indecision was obvious and he suggested we start with guacamole. He asked if we liked it hot but he didn't trust our "yes" because we had to make it hotter when it arrived. But fresh & flavorful it was, complete with the avocado pit and a wedge of lime.
We were surprised with the complimentary lentil soup which we happily consumed. And after further conversation with our server, we started with two pupusas & fried plantains. One pupusa was steak and cheese and the other was jalapeno pepper and cheese. These were divided amongst us and were such a treat! The pupusa is a thick tortilla, but with twice the flavor, and stuffed before cooking, which can be opened like pita bread and filled with additional items, like the fermented cabbage slaw that accompanied it. Or the cabbage can just be placed on top of the pupusa and eaten like a taco. Our server assured us that both methods were acceptable :-)
The fried plantains were exceptional, particularly due to the crema y frijoles that came along with them. We were advised to mix the sauces together before dipping the plantains. And we can assure you that you have not tasted anything like those sauces in any other Mexican/Spanish restaurant here in Grand Rapids.

We could have stopped there but were so thrilled with this new-to-us food that we ordered more, knowing we'd take the bulk of it home with us. Pork tamales, steak tacos, and taquitos rounded out our meal here (well, there were three of us :-) ).
We were all happy with our choices, and again, this is so much better than the stuff served up in your average Mexican restaurants, but the stars of this place are the pupusas and the plantains with the sour cream and bean sauce. The ingredients are fresh and the food is prepared after you order it. Here's our server in the kitchen doing just that.
There was one other person working in the kitchen and when we asked about the history of the place the information was a little spotty but apparently it's been open about 10 years with ownership changing hands among family members.

The restaurant is book-ended by a car wash and a laundromat that explained the "no change" signs on the door.
And although the neighborhood might seem a little dilapidated with 24/7 security cameras necessary, don't be dissuaded from checking out this place. We have 29 more pupusas to try in this Rincon Magico (as they call themselves).
They are on Facebook, and their current hours, per our server Joseph are as follows:
Monday-Thursday ~ 11:00am - 8:30 or 9:00pm
Friday & Saturday ~ 10:00am - 10:00pm
Sunday ~10:00am - 8:30pm
We are so happy to share another local gem with you and regret that it took us 10 years to find it!
Pupuseria El Salvador La Original on Urbanspoon 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Taqueria Garcia, 3536 S Division ~ 12/19/14

Ten days ago we lunched at Pho Soc Trang, located in the Asian Shopping Center at 4242 S Division, and on our way back north, we spotted several small hole-in-the-wall restaurants that we noted for another time. And today was one of those times. Located just north of 36th Street, the place will be missed if you blink.
The sidewalk sign alerts drivers to the existence of this restaurant, which takes up the right half of the building pictured above.
Parking is available in the back of the building and we walked around to the entrance, curious to find out what the restaurant was like. We were greeted by a small space containing eight tables for four and four booths. Three other customers were there and two of them gave us a look somewhere between appraising and disapproving. But the young man standing behind the counter gave us a brilliant, friendly smile as we walked up to figure out what to order. Menus are on white boards on the wall and we eventually made our choices while he patiently waited. There are ten taco choices, five gorditos, and one sope.
He disappeared into the kitchen and we took a booth along the windows. Matt then had some fun with the mirrors (there are three of them hanging on various walls). There were three large pencil drawings hanging above us, two of large breasted women and the other maybe a Mexican Clint Eastwood? Viva mi Raza was written on a couple of them ~ "Long live my People," certainly a worthy sentiment. The Virgin Mary under a garland also joined the decor. And Pirates of the Caribbean was being shown on the T.V.
Another customer walked in, sat down at a table, and received table service. So it is available but you have to know what you want unless you can read the whiteboards from your seat. Our counter man soon brought us our tacos, the first dish being one pork and one steak, nicely smothered in cilantro and onions.
Matt ordered three ~ pork, steak, and beef tongue.
Three unmarked sauces were brought out for us, spicy, hot, and hotter. After a few taste tests we each picked one suitable to our taste buds. We had no complaints and the tacos are definitely recommended. We didn't like them as well as those at Taqueria San Jose but this place is certainly worthy of a visit. Tortillas weren't doubled or slightly fried like at San Jose but everything tasted fresh and there was no lack of flavor.

For the price conscious among you, these tacos are $2.00 each. That's right. And the restaurant is a small family business. The cook is the father of our server and usually his daughter is there helping as well but our server had enlisted the help of a friend today.

They are on Facebook and here is their December 17 posting:  "Correccion va aber Barbacoa, Pansita, y Consume el 27 De Diciembre. Abrimos a las 9 de la maƱana gracias. Correction there will be Barbacoa, panista, and consume made out of goat on December 27. We will be open at 9am thank you." What's not to love about this unique little place on South Division? We'll be back to try the gorditos and sope!

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday ~ 9:00 am - 8:30 pm
Friday, Saturday ~ 9:00 am - 10:00 pm
Monday ~ Closed

Support another of Grand Rapids' many local restaurants, ignore the national chains, and reviews of the same, that make every neighborhood just a little less interesting, put locals out of business, and cause all cities to look like Any City, U.S.A. This family is doing their part.

 Taqueria Garcia on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wine, Beer & Food Festival ~ 11/22/14 (Copied over from All Things Grand Rapids: