What I know about Central American cuisine is that I don’t know much about Central American Cuisine. With that in mind, it seemed a good time to learn, so I joined a friend for lunch at pupuseria LaPlacita in Sherman. Around here, when we say “south of the border” we usually mean the Rio Grande. In this case, we mean El Salvador, tucked in between Guatemala, Honduras and the Pacific Ocean.
LaPlacita has been serving Texoma residents since 2007, when Vitoria Menjvas, a long-time Sherman resident and native of El Salvador, started this family eatery in an old filling station on West Houston. Menjava and one of her sons, Walter, now oversee the operations in the small, neat, cocina. The menu is simple and well presented, but do not spend time looking for your favorite Tex-Mex items; you won’t find them here.
A traditional dish of El Salvador, the pupusa, is a thick masa tortilla, more like a corn cake than the Mexican tortillas I am used to, with a thin filling of meat or vegetables. It is accompanied by a lightly fermented cabbage slaw.
That seemed a good place to start, so one pupusa frioles con queso (black beans and cheese) went on the tab. Next I added a Taco Res (beef), which my friend recommended. And a tamale, do not forget the tamale. Across the table, my friend ordered a quesadilla pollo (shredded chicken and cheese in a flour tortilla). I was drinking water; he chose sweet tea, but note that La Placita has a cooler full of Latin American bottled soft drinks sweetened with cane sugar.
While we waited, since all the dishes are made to order, it takes a little time but not long, we tried the chips and red salsa. The chips were thicker than I usually see, and salsa thinner, less chunky, but with a taste that was familiar, but nicely different.
While my friend started on his quesadilla, I explored my pupusa and taco, shoving the plates around to make room for the tamale. The pupusa was soft and light, and a few daubs of guacamole added to the taste and texture. Salvadorean guacamole has diced rather than mashed avocado and is flavored with a crumble of hard cooked egg and Romano cheese. Like the other familiar, yet different, tastes I had encountered at La Placita, you know you are in the Hispanic neighborhood, but are a couple of streets over from your usual haunts.
I traded a bite of my tamale for a bite of the quesadilla, and both sides of the deal were pleased with the results. Salvadorean tamales are steamed in banana leaves rather than corn shucks, and the masa foundation is fluffy and a bit sweet, like an extra light corn muffin. I had ordered the Tamale des elote con crema, filled with sweet corn and Salvadorean cream. This lightly sweetened mixture with a sour cream base is more like French crème fraiche or Mexican crema than regular sour cream. Topped with berries, this tamale could have stood good stead for a dessert item.
And speaking of dessert, Tres Leches cake and cheese cake were on the menu, but I chose fried plantains. This close cousin of the banana is a staple in much of Latin, Central, South America, the Caribbean, Africa and parts of Southeast Asia. The Salvadorean version uses well ripe fruit, slice thin, quickly fried with a drizzle of vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon, then covered for a few minutes to steam. The slices developed a sweet glaze and are often dusted with powdered sugar. They are a good thing, and a nice way to finish lunch.
La Placita is a nice place for an introduction to something beyond the usual Tex-Mex. And who knows, you may end up going steady.
Note: Since I started doing these reviews, I have been surprised at the variety of cuisines available in Texoma. While many of our long standing favorites, Tex-Mex, Italian, Chinese and the like tend to offer a fairly standard mix of traditional and Americanized dishes, the newer arrivals are even more varied and nuanced. While the core of many of these cuisines is basic and fundamental, the subtle variations seem endless. Remember, there is always another taste on the next plate, and the adventure is just beginning. And leave room for dessert.
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