A month or so ago, me and Shane were going to meet our workstudy homeboy Diego for lunch, before he blasted off to NYC to go to law school; we need more environmental lawyers, dammit, and Diego will make an excellent barrister! As usual, I came up with a list of dining options, and we all settled on Costa del Sol, a happening little Salvadoran joint at the northeast corner of Cameron Rd. and 183. Due west across Cameron is where we used to go in high school for the nearest drive-in movies; it was closer than the drive-in at Koenig and Lamar. I knew that whole Cameron Rd. area like the back of my hand. Now, not so much. It's a whole new scene.
Costa and El Zunzal (immediately west of the HEB at Pleasant Valley and E. 7th) are my two spots for Salvadoran chow, and it just depends on which one I’m closest to when the Salvadoreño jones hits. Costa makes nods to Mexican food as well, but we go for the excellent Salvadoran food. Shane ordered enough food for three and ended taking a lot of it home; Diego ordered sensibly and cleaned his plate, while helping us with our overload. I was somewhere in the middle, between those two.
I ordered one of their excellent “green” corn tamales ($2), which is basically a tamale made with fresh corn masa instead of dried corn masa. I also ordered a pork tamal, which is made with succulent shredded pork stuffed inside. Both of the masas are light as a cloud, loaded with savory flavor, and the banana leaf-wrapped Salvadoran tamal is larger than the typical Mexican tamal. They are served with a side of crema, the Latin American version of sour cream; richer and less tart than crème fraiche, but with more flavor than American sour cream.
"green" corn tamal on right, pork tamal underneath, cheese pupusa on top, puddle of crema right
I also ordered a cheese pupusa ($2.25), which is a Salvadoran tortilla stuffed with a layer of farmer’s cheese before it has the edges sealed and is griddled. I wanted cheese with loroco, the indigenous edible flower from Central America, but they were out. Loroco can be used fresh, frozen, or pickled, and has a flavor kind of like a cross between artichokes, squash, and broccoli with a slightly nutty finish; usually only the flower buds are used. The pupusas here are excellent; worth the trip all by themselves.
refried beans left, plantains middle, and crema right. carnitas top left, chiles toreados center top, and salsa top left.
For my main dish I ordered a pair of fried (griddled) sweet plantains (AKA pláanos maduros, $8), which comes with a big side of rich and refried beans (subbed by me for the usual savory stewed black beans), and a generous serving of crema. Think of the sweet plantain as being a little tart and sweet at the same time, but the sugars caramelize as it cooks, lending a burnt caramel quality. I also got a side of carnitas ($2.50), which are meaty, porky, unctuous chunks of pig meat cooked in lard; oh-so perfecto with a squeeze of citrus and a dab of salsa. I also got a side of chiles toreados ($1.50), jalapeños that have been blackened on the griddle. A nibble of them makes for a spicy interlude between bites of pork and plantain.
Shane's pastor taco, pork tamal, and black bean and cheese pupusa
Shane's carne guisado plate
Diego's pair o' pupusas: cheese and black bean with cheese
The meal started with a basket of totopos and a nice, zippy salsa (need larger container please, it would save me and the server a lot of refilling effort). And we also got a large communal container set on the table of Costa’s wonderful curtido (sorry, no pic), a salad-like lagniappe that all Salvadoran joints have at the table. Their version is lightly pickled cabbage, onion, garlic, carrot, chile, with oregano; addictively delicious stuff. I waddled out of there stuffed to the gills, and happy as a pig in a wallow. The UT work homies loved their food as well.
There is a bonus found at this little strip center. Two doors west is a lively little Honduran joint, Antojitos Hondurenos, that has tamales that may even be better than those at Costa del Sol. This is the only spot I know where you can literally do a Central American food crawl in the same little strip center. Also highly recommended at Costa is the award-winning Regia Cerveza, ($6, for the big bottle). Great stuff. They also do humongo bowls of specialty soups on the weekends. Fantastic food, great service, good prices.
Costa del Sol
7901 Cameron Rd., 512/832-5331
Mick Vann ©
My previous Austin Chronicle review from 2009:
My previous article on Honduran food in the ATX: