70 Washington Ave., Portland
On the eastern side of Washington Avenue lies a gem in the urban rough, a small house with a backyard full of corn. This is Tu Casa Restaurante Salvadoreno. Drive slowly, or you’ll miss its little blue sign, and Tu Casa is not to be missed.
Granted, Tu Casa’s not for everyone. If you demand attentive table service and find televisions in restaurants annoying, this is the wrong place for you. (Spanish-language daytime cable programming is as bad as its English equivalent, we soon discovered.) But if you like great-tasting, cheap food (and who doesn’t?), and can roll with unconventional dining experiences, add Tu Casa to your list of regular haunts.
Start with pupusas: soft, disc-shaped corn pockets filled with either meat or herbed jack cheese, and eaten with a vinegar-tinged cold slaw. Or the sizeable and tender Tamale Salvadoreno stuffed with chicken and green peppers . At $1.50 each, these two appetizers are very possibly the best combination of taste and value in town.
In season, these and other corn dishes are made with the aforementioned backyard corn, which must help keep the price so low. It does wonders for the flavor.
The platenos fritos (fried plantains, $3.50) were perfect, a generous serving lightly browned and slightly sweet.
The taquitos (three for $6,50) are homemade, soft-shelled corn tacos filled with small pieces of well-cooked, adobe-marinated beef, topped with the traditional fixin’s. Be sure to get both the green and red sauces to spice things up (note: the consistency of these sauces may vary noticeably from visit to visit).
The beef quesadilla ($4.25) is huge, filled with creamy beans, jack cheese, and loads of that flavorful beef. Recalling the $9 spinach, tomato and feta quesadilla from the last review, the photographer and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Among the treasures in the cooler in the corner are a Mexican tamarind soda and a Brazilian Guarana Soda. A read of the label reveals the latter was made in Kearny, New Jersey, but with imported Guarana, a fruit popular in Central and South America. (Tu Casa doesn’t serve beer or wine, but you’re free to bring your own.)
Horchata is another find at Tu Casa, made on the premises and served over ice. I got one to go, and after some pestering, the guy working there told me enough to lead me to believe it’s made with tigernut, the edible tuber traditionally used to spice this drink. Like egg cream, Horchata makes a great dessert drink.
— Mort Viande
Tu Casa is open Sunday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.