Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Restaurant Review: Karina’s El Salvador Restaurant: Tyler’s Salvadorian Style Restaurant—a Taqueria
Tyler has its first Salvadorian-style restaurant...
Tyler, Texas has its first Salvadorian-style restaurant, at least in this decade: Karina’s El Salvador Restaurant. Los Charles is a Salvadorian-owned, Tex-Mex buffet that’s been a North Tyler fixture for many years. Karina’s is located in West Tyler at the southeast corner of West Erwin (1916 W. Erwin) and Boon, just west of the Americana Inn and east of Sav-A-Lot grocery store. Karina’s is a taqueria, a traditional Mexican or Salvadorian restaurant specializing in soft tacos filled with stew, grilled, or roast meat—beef, pork, chicken, and even fish. You could describe taquerias as like a fast food restaurant with fresh, homemade food. Taqueria Lupita (not affiliated with the Dallas chain) used to be at this site, apparently a former car lot guessing by the tall, barbed wire topped fence wrapping around the parking lot. I refer to the restaurant as Taqueria Karina out of habit for this type of restaurant.
I took one of my longest-time, best friends to lunch at Taqueria Karina. First came the homemade, baked corn tortilla chips with red and green sauce. Baked chips always seem to be thicker than the usual fried chips—somewhat parallel to kettle-fried potato chips. Both of us had a pupusa with spicy cole slaw, a flour beef fajita taco, and an apple drink.
First of all, the pupusa is a Salvadorian specialty; it looks like a flat gordita and filled with chicharrones (soft pork skins), refried beans, and cheese. The gordita covering is corn-based, a relative of the more-familiar tortilla. Salvadorian cole slaw is a mix of shredded green cabbage with a touch of finely sliced carrots and a splash of spicy vinaigrette. Karina’s other dishes are like standard Mexican taqueria fare. Our fajita taco was topped with typical chopped white onions and cilantro. But I added some of that Salvadorian cole slaw; cabbage is a fairly common taco topping choice.
Our apple drinks were one of Taqueria Karina’s two aguas frescas choices. Aguas frescas, literally “fresh waters,” are fruit drinks blended with water and sugar. I’ve never seen apple previously in an agua fresca; plus, the drink had tiny cubes of apple. The other agua fresca is pineapple—a very common choice in Mexican taquerias. Another Karina drink is horchata, a non-dairy milk with cinnamon. Only the Salvadorian version of horchata is brown instead of white, at least partly due to more cinnamon unlike the Mexican style, based on rice. I’d recommend both styles.
Taqueria Karina has a pretty big menu. I bet I’ll try tacos al pastor next time—a spicy pork dish cooked in guajillo, arbol, and either chipotle or ancho peppers. It’s descended from the Lebanese gyros, as pastor is a Lebanese-Mexican invention. Karina is open for breakfast too.
I’m not just a new fan of Karina’s. I’m a neighbor of the friendly owner who brought my buddy and I free samples of apple drink and horchata. Furthermore, his wonderful puppy is one of my best friends—a 25-pound, brown-and-white, half-German Shepherd/half-Pit Bull—named Karina!