Karlos Ramirez

Karlos Ramirez said his Salvadoreno Restaurant in Mesa focuses on flavor rather than spiciness. 

The Salvadoreno Restaurant in Mesa Southern has been serving up traditional Salvadoran food since 2002. 

Originally owned by his parents, Karlos Ramirez has owned it for the last 11 years and will soon be opening a new location near Baseline and Hardy roads in Tempe. 

Other family members own several other locations, with the same name throughout the Valley along with one in California. 

The big difference between Salvadoran food and other cuisines is the flavor,

he said.

“We’re not focused on everything being spicy,” said Ramirez. “We do have some spicy things but our main focus is flavor. 

Some items with a Mexican flare include the fajita trio with steak, chicken and shrimp and tacos.

“A lot of people compare Salvadoran food to Caribbean Latin food, Puerto Rican food, Dominican Republic, Cuban, and even South American food once they try it. We do get mistaken for Caribbean Mexican but in the end, we’re more focused on the flavors and seasonings.”

Seasonings include chipilin, a leaf in El Salvador. 

“It’s actually grown in all of Central America,” explained Ramirez. “It has 180 percent vitamin C. We specifically put that in our soups. Then we have a tamale we put that in.”

Another seasoning the restaurant uses is the flower Loroco.

“It’s an edible flower in El Salvador, kind of like artichoke,” Ramirez said. “It actually has a similar texture and flavor. We mix it with the cheese to make our pupusas. It leaves off a little bit of a salty, grainy flavor. It’s really delicious.”

Pupusas are popular in El Salvador, according to Ramirez, and are a big seller at his restaurant. 

Basically, it’s kind of like our hot dog or hamburger of El Salvador. It’s a little tortilla. Inside, it’s stuffed with different toppings. The most traditional one is a mix of pork, cheese and beans in the middle of the pupusa.”

Other popular menu items include ceviche and soups.

 “Sopa De Pata is like a Menudo soup but we add beef feet and beef tripe along with some vegetables,” said Ramirez.

The restaurant serves an array of different soups, including one with free-range chicken.

“A traditional plate of El Salvador is chicken or steak sautéed in onions served with traditional Salvadoran rice and Salvadoran beans which are black and red beans mixed together,” explained Ramirez. “We don’t use pinto beans or refried beans. Our rice is more of Spanish rice.” 

He said diners also enjoy a whole friend tilapia fish served with rice, side salad and chimole, which is a less spicy version of pico de gallo. 

“My favorite items are Lengua, beef tongue stewed with tomatoes served with rice and beans; chile relleno, my grandma’s recipe, beef and cheese; and pupusas,” Ramirez said. “I like the ceviche, as well.”

Desserts include empanadas which is a plantain.

“We grind them up, make them into little balls. In the middle, we put a creamy filling made out of rice and topped it off with sugar. Then we have buenados which are custards and fried cassavas, kind of like hush puppies, served with honey. Another dessert is a quesadilla, which is a piece of sweet bread with cheese and rice.”

In the last 10 years, Ramirez said there’s been a surge in Central America restaurants in the Phoenix and Mesa area. 

Not all are Salvadoran but are serving similar foods such as Costa Rican, Venezuelan and Guatemalan. 

While the food is similar, Ramirez said there’s a distinct taste to Salvadoran food with the preparation and seasoning. 

“We’re from the west part of El Salvador,” Ramirez said. “My dad grew up on the coast of the area. That’s where the ceviche comes from. My mom was born inland of that west part and that’s where the pupusas and the tamales come from.” 

Ramirez was born in El Salvador and was brought here when he was 5.  

The secret to the restaurant’s success has been loyal customers, according to Ramirez. 

In addition, he boasted, “Our food is so different. We’re not a burger shop. We’re not a hot dog shop. I think our food is what has helped us stay afloat.”  

The restaurant serves reasonably priced breakfast, lunch and dinner along with Salvadoran coffee. They offer takeout, delivery and limited dine-in service.  

Information: 303 E. Southern Ave., Mesa, salvadorenorestaurant.com, 480-835-1038. 

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