We got decadent at Salvadorian go-to El Amigo

This humble BYOB is the place to gorge yourself on pupusas, paella and steak.

Huevos rancheros with pupusas and cortido 

El Centroamericano, saignant, por favor.

El Amigo, with its dusty green sign and its wedding banquet chairs, its laminated menus, candy machines and fridges of Inca Kola, sits inconspicuously on the edge of Little Italy, serving Salvadorian and Mexican food to a loyal clientele. The décor is sparse and friendly: plates of fake lacquered fruits, a gold and black sombrero, a model banana tree and a painting of a street vendor cooking pupusas on a sunny day.

The man who runs El Amigo, who is server and chef alike, tried, for our benefit, to turn off the Mexican film noir he was watching, but we asked him to keep it on. He looked at me quizzically and approvingly when I ordered my flank steak rare, and later came out showing half a rotten avocado to explain that he couldn’t give me rotten avocado, so, dommage, no avocado for me. In an era when even the purportedly environmentally conscious expect any and all produce at any time of year, for their own personal nutritional edification, not to mention adherence to any number of Instagram diets, I was pleased, finally, to be refused something. Neither rudely nor apologetically, but simply as a statement of fact.

Tortilla soup

On a recent afternoon trip, the tortilla soup ($4.75 for the small portion) was a satisfying, if oddly saltless lunch, but with a cheese pupusa ($2.65) it felt like a healthful substitute to a grilled cheese sandwich and a can of Campbell’s soup. They have breakfast, too, and while the huevos of the huevos rancheros ($10.25) are covered, bizarrely, by batonettes of carrot and zucchini in a bland tomato sauce, this plate comes with an entire fried plantain, fulfilling the hangover victim’s dual need for dessert and a pile of potatoes in one magical starch.

This evening however, with the flat screen TV projecting our Mexican heroine (now winsome, now weeping), I ordered the Centroamericano ($15.25), a vast heaping plate of which I often take half home, but somehow on this occasion I succumbed to a fit of total gluttony and kept plowing ahead, dipping into dep wine bottle number two. I had tried in vain to convince my companion to order something other than the Centroamericano so we could share, damnit, maybe the wonderful crevettes à la diable ($14) or the immense seafood paella ($20). In the end we just got into a fight and ordered identical meals, like two people who have lived together drinking wines variously decadent and frugal for eight years.

Finishing the Centroamericano means making your way through a steak, a piece of queso, the usual soft yellow rice and accompanying beans, some pico de gallo, plantain, crema and a pastele, a pork-filled corn flour turnover akin to a tamale. I came to El Amigo once when they were out of pasteles and received a plantain empanada instead: a wonderfully sweet deep-fried semi-circle of dough.


There was, somehow, room for pupusas ($2.50 to $2.80 each) — hot and fresh and with an infinite supply of curtido served in a big plastic goblet with a giant thick-tined fork. Curtido is the cabbage relish resembling a vinegary slaw that typically accompanies pupusas and is the reason why I will never order a pupusa to go. They steam unpleasantly en route home and end up limp, sad and greasy, but critically, it is the lack of curtido at home that truly means you can never, ever, order pupusas to go unless you have your own jar waiting in your fridge.

I fingered the plastic tablecloth reminiscent of fastidious grandmas the world over, temporarily wine stained and hot from the pupusa plates, and looked up at the bright yellow walls and the plug incongruously hanging from the ceiling. I went to use the washroom and remembered that the mirrors there are actually flattering. Key to any establishment where you intend to gorge yourself is a bathroom mirror to leave your ego similarly bulged as you stagger home, shameless and content. ■

El Amigo

51 St-Zotique E.