One of the joys of living in a cosmopolitan city such as Montreal is the grand variety of restaurants. We recently enjoyed a couple of meals at El Chalateco, an El Salvadoran restaurant located steps away from the Beaubien metro.
Pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador, are a specialty of the house. They are served as a street-food in El Salvador, and here in Montreal at El Chalateco they are served on a plate with accompanying house-fermented cole slaw. A pupusa is a filled, fried corn tortilla. They come with a tasty tomato sauce and a spicy hot sauce on the side. One of our favourites is Queso y loroco, which is filled with cheese and an asparagus-flavoured flower called loroco. At $2.25 a piece, one pupusa is insanely inexpensive, so it’s only polite to order at least two or three of them. If you come as a large group, you have the option of ordering large amounts to be served family-style.
Besides pupusas, there are many other dishes to be tasted at El Chalateco. Vegetarians will be happy here; there are not only veggie-based pupusas but a healthy handful of other meatless choices. Vegans can enjoy a bean pupusa with the fermented cole slaw, and there is a delicious-looking plate of beans, rice, and vegetables. Flexibility is an option because the kitchen is small. About three people make the food as it is ordered.
For meat-eaters, this restaurant provides many satisfying choices. Among the appetizers are traditionally-cooked tamales. The masa is infused with other flavours because it is wrapped into a plantain leaf along with other ingredients such as olives and chicken. The tacos Salvadorenos are crunchy rolled-up meat-filled tortillas, served with veggies and a very hot sauce. With a pupusa they are a plentiful good lunch, or they can indeed be eaten as the appetizers that they claim to be. Another specialty of the house is the El Salvadoran version of the Québécois “Hot Chicken” sandwich, the Pan con pollo y escavechi. It is enormous and full of not only chicken and flavours, but vegetables too. The sauce is rich (but not overly so) and delicious. Pastelitos de carne are hot, crunchy packets of spicy goodness. Definitely give them a try.
In a word, the food here tastes of nourishment. The dishes are made with care, served hot and are nicely filling.
Even though our visit was in the dead of winter, the ultimate summer drink had to be tested. El Salvadorians call it ‘Michelada‘, which is a mixture of lager, salsa juice and lime served in a mug with a spiced and salted rim. One sip led to dreams of relaxing in the shade with the good company of several drinks shared with many friends.
There are some good dessert options. Bite into a Torreja. It is a warm and delicious french toast-like dessert. It has a depth of sweetness that makes my heart race. Chocolate caliente is a rich, full-tasting and lightly spiced experience. Although my mug stayed very hot for a full half hour, my hot chocolate was always easily drinkable. Chilate is the choice for a ‘super-sized’ dessert or a meal all in itself. ‘Chilate’ is a warm and filling drink thickened with corn flour and spiked with a sprig of lightly crushed cocoa seeds. Drinking Chilate is thought to strengthen someone and it is often served to the convalescing. It seems like a good meal for this time of the year. The drink is served inside a calabash gourd, accompanied by a dish filled with slices of fried sweet-potato and a plantain; these are garnished with a sweet, cinnamon sauce of cooked plums. Each taken in turn makes for a delightfully filling combination.
The atmosphere in El Chalateco is relaxed, family friendly, yet quietly festive. There are always seasonal decorations suspended from the ceilings, it looks like the place is ready for a party. It is clean, inexpensive, friendly, and welcoming. It is easily a go-to place in the Beaubien area!
(El Chalateco, 520 Beaubien Est, 514.272.5585)
Tammy Schmidt and Natasha Henderson, Montreal