The Austin Chronicle

Mick Makes a Return Trip to Costa del Sol

By Mick Vann, June 10, 2014, 3:50pm, On the Range

Costa del Sol is a happening little Salvadoran joint at the northeast corner of Cameron Rd. and 183. I knew that whole Cameron Rd-Sprinkle-Dessau Rd. area like the back of my hand when I was growing up. Now, this funky strip center is a culinary destination.

Costa and El Zunzal (immediately west of the HEB at Pleasant Valley and E. Seventh) are my two spots for Salvadoran chow, and where I eat just depends on which one I’m closest to when the pupusa jones hits. Costa makes nods to Mexican food, as well, but we go for the excellent Salvadoran food. My buddy Shane ordered enough food for three and ended taking a lot of it home; Diego ordered sensibly and cleaned his plate, while helping us eat ours. I was somewhere in the middle, between those two on the gluttony scale.

I ordered one of their excellent “green” corn tamales ($2), which is basically a tamale made with fresh corn masa instead of dried corn masa. I also ordered a pork tamal, which is made with succulent shredded pork stuffed inside a sheath of whipped lard and dried corn masa. Both of the masas are light as a cloud, loaded with savory flavor, and the banana leaf-wrapped Salvadoran tamal is larger than the typical Mexican variety. They are served with a side of crema, the Latin American version of sour cream; richer and less tart than crème fraiche, but with more flavor and less substance than American sour cream.

I also ordered a cheese pupusa ($2.25), which is a thick-ish Salvadoran tortilla stuffed with a layer of farmer’s cheese before it has the edges sealed and takes a turn on the griddle. I wanted cheese with loroco, the indigenous edible flower from Central America, but they were out. Loroco can be used fresh, frozen, or pickled, and has a flavor kind of like a cross between artichokes, squash, and broccoli with a slightly nutty finish; usually only the flower buds are used. The pupusas here are excellent; worth the trip all by themselves.

For my main dish, I ordered a pair of fried (griddled) sweet plantains (AKA plátanos maduros, $8), which come with a big side beans, and a generous puddle of crema; I opted for the refried pintos instead of the usual rich and savory stewed black beans. Think of the sweet plantain as being a little tart and sweet at the same time, but the sugars caramelize as it cooks, lending a burnt caramel quality. I also got a side of carnitas ($2.50), which are meaty, porky, unctuous chunks of pig meat cooked in lard; oh-so perfect with a squeeze of citrus and a dab of salsa. I also got a side of chiles toreados ($1.50), jalapeños that have been blackened on the griddle. A nibble of them makes for a spicy interlude between bites of pork and plantain.

The meal started with a basket of totopos and a nice, zippy salsa (need larger container please, it would save both me and the server a lot of refilling effort). And we also got a large communal container set on the table of Costa’s wonderful curtido, a salad-like pickled specialty that all Salvadoran joints have at the table. Their version is lightly pickled cabbage, onion, garlic, carrot, chile, with oregano; addictive, delicious stuff. I waddled out of there stuffed to the gills, and happy as a pig in a wallow. My buddies loved their food ,as well.

There is a bonus found at this little strip center. Two doors west is a lively little Honduran joint, Antojitos Hondureños, that has tamales that may even be better than those at Costa del Sol. This is the only spot I know where you can literally do a Central American food crawl in the same little strip center. Also highly recommended at Costa is the award-winning Regia Cerveza, ($6, for the big bottle). Great stuff. They also do gigantic bowls of specialty soups on the weekends. Fantastic food, great service, good prices.

Costa del Sol

7901 Cameron Rd., 512/832-5331

Monday-Friday, 8:30am-9pm; Saturday & Sunday, 8:30am-10pm

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