Guanaquito Pupuseria

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1434 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix

It's easy to whiz right by this friendly, family-run Salvadoran restaurant, which sports nothing more than a small vertical sign on the building and a neon "open" sign in the window. So slow down already! Finding Guanaquito is well worth the effort. Like Mexico, El Salvador relies heavily on corn, beans, squash and tomatoes, but dishes are prepared a bit differently here, starting with salsa roja, a mildly seasoned, cooked tomato sauce whose subtle heat builds slowly in the mouth. It's great with chips as well as the pupusas for which this Central American country is famous -- puffy, griddled corn tortillas, stuffed with various fillings, including refried beans, chorizo, chicharron and cheese. Don't miss them. They're inexpensive and oh-so-yummy with curtido, a pickled cabbage and carrot relish served with nearly everything in El Salvador. For a nice overview of Salvadoran food, try the appetizer combo plate called Plato Tipico, which includes savory, half moon-shaped meat pies called pasteles de carne, silky chicken tamale, wrapped in banana leaf, and faintly sweet, starchy planks of fried yuca (the Salvadoran answer to French fries). Tender carne asada is both familiar and delicious, while the quesadilla is a pleasant shock. It's not a cheese-filled flour tortilla at all, but rather a sesame seed-studded sponge cake made with light cheese. And of course, fried plantains with creamy refrieds and Salvadoran sour cream, are a must, eaten for breakfast or dessert. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Tu-Sa. $-$$