El Sabor Salvadoreno Restaurante in Norwalk a lucky find
People often ask me how I choose a restaurant to review. The answer is often “word of mouth” or “it got a lot of buzz,” and sometimes the honest answer is simply sheer dumb luck. Such was the case with El Sabor Salvadoreno Restaurante in Norwalk.
Norwalk is one of the cities I can’t figure out. Neither maps, nor my trusty GPS ever send me the right way. I am perpetually lost, but sometimes that is a good thing. As usual a few days ago I was trying to find a store that sold jewelry beads. I drove around in circles; I asked a cop directing traffic; my GPS threw up its hands, and I said, “Nobody needs beads this badly” and drove away.
I was beadless, but very hungry and I spotted a corner restaurant I had never heard of. I knew nothing about the cuisine of El Salvador. I knew nothing about El Salvador the country; I wasn’t even sure if it was in South America or Central America, but it was intriguing and most miraculous of all there was a parking space in front. I walked inside and was transported. I fell in love with all things Salvadoran and felt like I have on occasion when traveling in an exotic country where no one speaks English and the customs are uncommon. I sat at the counter, which was filled with working men. My fellow diners had callouses on their hands, but each one nodded and politely made room for me, my handbag, my camera, my shopping bag and other clunky items.
There were also tables filled with couples or families with children. It was an astonishingly happy atmosphere. The chatter in foreign languages and the smell of home cooking filled the air. I took a menu and realized not one thing sounded familiar. I looked down the counter to see what my seat mates were eating and when the waitress came over I pointed to what looked most delicious. Here is what I ordered and yes it is a lot, but hey, that’s my job!
I asked for guacamole and chips and received possibly the best rendition of guacamole around. One bite and I realized what is wrong with the other 99 percent of all guacamole … not enough salt and not enough lemon juice. The guacamole here was not the usual green glop, but a mound of finely chopped avocado, onions and cilantro. It was bright and truly excellent.
The working men all seemed to have very large bowls of soup in front of them. I followed suit and ordered the house specialty of Sopa de mondongo, a hearty tripe soup that seemed more like a stew. I moved on to the weekend special, chicken soup, and wondered if my grandmother was in fact really from El Salvador instead of Hungary. It was classic “Jewish penicillin,” rich chicken broth, hunks of tender potatoes, carrots and celery. A dish that transcends geographical boundaries.
I would have liked to have ordered the entire menu, but I chose pollo en crema con arroz y ensalada. The generous pieces of chicken were cooked in a mild sour cream sauce with a mound of refried beans and fluffy rice sharing the plate. The man next to me had ordered Carne Asada and I followed suit. Like my counter buddy I got a hearty order of grilled steak sided with rice, refried beans and crisp salad. To wash it down I got a large glass of icy mango juice.
El Sabor Salvadoreño Restaurante
2 Monroe St., Norwalk
I had just dipped into the menu and felt frustrated that I had not tried the Salvadoran specialty pupusas: thick corn tortillas filled with refried beans, pork belly, beef, pork or cheese.
Sitting side by side with strangers whose words I could not understand, I had that transcendent feeling I have gotten a few times far from home. It is a feeling of letting go of your safe places and safe habits and entering into a new world. I did not know the people I ate next to, and they did not know me, I did not speak their language and probably had no idea what I had ordered, but I can tell you that the owner, staff and customers at this small unsung restaurant were so welcoming and warm I was blissed out.
I was told that nothing canned is used in the kitchen; everything is homemade, and no shortcuts are taken. From what I could see and taste, this is true. El Sabor Salvadoreno is a great find. Once through the door you will feel like family.
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern. Join her each week as she travels Fairfield County finding a great meal in unexpected places for $20 or less.