On the restaurant-saturated stretch of Broadway that runs through Astoria, it may not be immediately clear what sets Salvatoria Kitchen & Bar apart. Don’t be distracted by the four big-screen TVs or the neatly arranged bar, aglow like a nightclub, with its color-shifting lights. Take note, instead, of the chalkboard sign out front advertising pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador. That’s the holy grail.
According to owner Astrid Portillo, Salvatoria Kitchen & Bar is the only Salvadoran restaurant in Astoria. It’s just four months old, but Portillo is far from a newcomer — she’s run Mi Pequeño El Salvador in Jackson Heights for the past five years, even bringing over some of its chefs to staff up her new spot. It shows; the restaurants have some menu overlap, though Salvatoria’s is stripped-down and less offal-heavy, perhaps to cater to broader tastes. There’s no lengua (beef tongue) in tomato sauce, for instance, and no tripe soup. There is, however, a cheeseburger.
The best options are drinking food — dishes meant for sharing over icy bottles of pilsner or a pitcher of sangria. That includes simple snacking options like the tamal elote con crema, a supple, sweet-corn tamale with a side of salty crema, and picadas — bite-size morsels of chorizo, chicken, steak, fried cassava, feta cheese, avocado, and more, served on a platter with toothpicks and a wedge of lemon.
The real stars, however, are the pupusas, or stuffed, griddled masa cakes. At Salvatoria, the white masa dough is fluffy, its outsides crisped in oil, and the fillings are generous. The chicharrón
pupusa stands out — the stewy, finely chopped pork saturates the masa with fat and flavor. So does the simple queso con loroco pupusa, which barely contains the oozy cheese at its core. Really, though, none of the nine different pupusa fillings disappoint. All are variations on a theme of meat, cheese, and beans and are served with curtido (a vinegary cabbage slaw) and soupy cooked tomato salsa. At around $3 a pop, it’s easy to order a stack.
For something zingier, turn to the ceviche mixto. (Unsurprisingly, given El Salvador’s considerable coastline, the restaurant’s seafood dishes also shine.) Chopped black clams add a mineral
flavor to the fresh mix of shrimp, fish, tomato, and lime. Served in an enormous goblet, the ceviche comes with fried tortilla wedges, but it can be eaten just as readily with a spoon.
Salvatoria has entrées, too, and among them is a showstopper: the mariscada a lo salvadoreño. The $32 dish is an elaborate seafood stew piled high with whole crab, half a lobster, fistfuls of shrimp, and a scattering of clams and fish. It comes in a generous pool of tomato sauce, with a mound of rice and a couple of thick tortillas to soak it up. The seafood is sweet and tender, and the sauce is impressively briny; you could eat it on its own and hardly know the difference.
The mariscada easily feeds three people, though an extra guest would help demolish it. Because it, too, is a kind of drinking food: perfect with a beer, and better if shared. And if that’s not quite enough, just order a round of pupusas.
Salvatoria Kitchen & Bar
31-18 Broadway, Queens