With the insurgence of chain restaurants, pop-up coffee shops and the incessant, expanding gentrification that’s taking place throughout the city, authenticity has become a desirable trait. People tend to crave what they believe to be real, and philosophical implications of that notion aside, finding something that you would call “authentic” is no easy task, but one that can pay dividends in the future. So, it should come as no surprise that one of the seemingly most authentic restaurants Baton Rouge has to offer is taking the LSU population by storm. La Salvadoreña Restaurant, newly located in the brick and mortar shop on Nicholson Drive formerly occupied by Willy’s Chicken and Waffles, is one of a shrinking category of restaurants that offer authenticity, affordability and quality that Baton Rouge so desperately craves.
La Salvadoreña Restaurant was originally a couple of food trucks, one operating out of an area on Nicholson only a few blocks away from the location and another often on Gardere. Now, the owners have opened up shop in a location that’s just waiting for a winner.
Price-wise, La Salvadoreña Restaurant is almost unbeatable. Save for the 99 cent cheesy double beef burrito that Taco Bell decided to re-release on a population whose intestines were just starting to heal, the prices can go toe-to-toe with any of the joints on your shortlist of budget-friendly meals. For just $11, I was able to get two Chicharrón con Queso pupusas (pork cracklins and cheese) and two tamales. For even less, there’s a whole page of specials including items like Mojarra Frita, which is a whole fried tilapia fish served with rice, beans, salad and fried plantains or tortillas. The prices at this place are almost hard to believe, so if you’re in the market for a new restaurant to eat while you wait for your next measly paycheck to get deposited, this should be on the shortlist.
As far as authenticity is concerned, it’s tough to say for sure, considering I have never been to El Salvador, but, compared to other Central American restaurants in town, this is the clear victor. The owners of this food truck-turned-restaurant don’t speak English. No one there does, in fact, save for one waitress who takes the orders and was kind enough to relay information from the owners to me. The food is fresh and full of flavor, so whether or not native El Salvadorians would call it “real,” it’s as real as we’re likely to get anytime soon. Stacked up against the likes of Rum House, Izzo’s, Chipotle, Coyote Blues, Fuzzy’s and Caliente, La Salvadoreña Restaurant is the obvious champion, and it’s hardly a competition.
It would seem contradictory to say that La Salvadoreña Restaurant achieves authenticity, affordability and quality. Those three are rare to come by in the same business, let alone a restaurant, but this one seems to strike just the right balance. The food here is, simply put, delicious. While the selection may not be as broad as some of the previously mentioned Central American restaurants, they make up for it in quality. Some of the high points of the menu are the shrimp ceviche and tostadas, served with pico de gallo, avocado and house sauces; the tacos, served with fajita steak or rotisserie pork with pineapple onion and pico de gallo; and the pollos fritos, served with rice and beans and homemade tortillas.
The decor is one of the only aspects of the restaurant that could use some serious improvement. It’s hard to complain too much, though. It’s a relatively new place, and not every restaurant takes their aesthetic straight out of the Las Vegas Strip playbook, but some actual tables would be nice instead of giant wooden spools painted black. Salvadoran music pipes through the speakers on the variety of Pandora playlists that haven’t been upgraded to the commercial-free version. Flags are painted on the wall, and the whole place has a vibe of just being thrown together. If you’re going out to eat purely for the aesthetic, this isn’t the place for you.
All in all, La Salvadoreña Restaurant does way more things well than it does poorly. The service is quick, and the food is cheap and delicious. You’ve got plenty of options that include a breakfast menu if you wake up early enough, and disregarding the subpar aesthetics, this place is a gem. If you’ve had your fill of imitation Mexican food that our fine city is riddled with and are seeking something a bit more original, unique and real, La Salvadoreña Restaurant should be your first, second and third choice.
Photo by Greta Jines.
Editor’s Note: This story originally said that the brick and mortar location of La Salvadoreña was on Gardere. The location is on Nicholson Drive. DIG regrets this error.