Salvadoran, Chinese food co-exist but don't mix at San Luis


Here's a fresh take on trendy East-meets-West cuisine. Salvadoran immigrant Miguel Rivera had worked in Chinese restaurants for years before deciding to open his own place in a storefront on Broadway. He painted the pressed-tin ceiling and walls salmon and peach, kept the crystal chandelier, added an extra-large bottle of Tabasco sauce to each table, and there you go: Baltimore's first Salvadoran- Chinese restaurant.

There's no melding of cuisines here; you simply have lots of choices. Tamales or spring rolls? Carne guisado or Szechwan pork?

Choose carefully and you'll have an excellent meal. But watch out. There are duds on the menu.

Dud No. 1: You may be tempted to order the sopa de marisco (seafood soup) over the beef tripe and feet soup. Big mistake. The fishy-tasting broth contained an empty crab shell and claw, one unshelled shrimp cooked literally to mush, a couple of small peeled shrimp (mushy also), some sliced celery and strips of green pepper. Not good.

Dud No. 2: homemade cardamom ice cream made with so much cardamom your hair will stand on end.

But then there are those things not to be missed:

Freshly fried tortilla chips, greasy but good, with warm salsa -- one of the best salsas I've tasted. These were irresistible.

Pupusas de queso, a soft, thick corn tortilla filled with melted mozzarella and herbs, with a slaw-like pickled cabbage and more of that excellent salsa.

A warm tamale wrapped around tender minced chicken and soft potatoes.

And this one (you won't believe how good it was): Along with the cardamom ice cream, the waitress brought us fried bananas for dessert. You eat them with delicious refried beans and unsweetened sour cream, a dynamite combination. Not exactly a brownie with hot fudge sauce, but one of the high points of our meal. (On the menu this is an appetizer, but our waitress insisted it's a dessert.)

You may notice I haven't said much about main courses, which are large, very filling, dirt-cheap and decent enough. But not memorable. You could get camarones a la almendra, shrimp in a yogurt sauce with the ubiquitous celery and green pepper strips but none of the expected almonds. They come with rice and broccoli in sour cream. Rellenos de puerco is fork-tender pork, highly seasoned, very salty, stuffed with vegetables and chicken. Pollo guisado consists of strips of chicken, celery, carrots and green pepper in a pink, creamy sauce.

It's something like an Oriental stir-fry and was as close to the Chinese side of the menu as we got. After all, you can order Hunan beef in dozens of places, but how many restaurants serve pupusas de queso?

San Luis

Where: 246 S. Broadway

Hours: Sundays through Thursdays 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: None

Features: Salvadoran and Chinese food

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 327-0266

Prices: Appetizers, $1.25-$4.95; entrees, $5.95-$7.95

** 1/2

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