By Katie Gallagher
“Sammy Sosa” was the only thing I could understand on the television. If it wasn’t the Spanish-language news, it was Spanish bullfighting and if it wasn’t the television, it was Spanish music. Tu Casa, a seven-month-old Salvadorian restaurant on Washington Avenue, was an interesting experience.
Despite the language barrier, ordering wasn’t a problem as a young boy who spoke very good English manned the counter. He took my order, which I chose from the dry erase board hanging above the counter, and was very helpful in describing some of the Spanish foods I was unsure about, such as pollo a la plancha-chicken cooked on a flat grill. I decided to go with it ($7). I also decided to try one of their chicken quesadillas ($3.50).
Waiting for my food in what looked like a little old lady’s kitchen was far from boring. Since television wasn’t an option, I focused on the unusual but entertaining d?cor.
Each of the six tables were lined with pink-and-white tablecloths that matched the pink-and-white flowered curtains and the pink-and-white silk tulips that sat in dainty white vases. The only wall without windows was a more vivid style, with two large, bright-colored towel murals. One was a picture of Central America, and the other an image of a small caf? with tamales and pupusas, some of the same foods served at Tu Casa.
Despite the restaurant’s humble appearance, with its small, sparse dining room and two outdoor tables, it plays a prominent role in Portland’s growing Latino community. Serving authentic food and providing a cultural gathering place, this pupuseria, as it is called, is more than its fa?ade lets on.
There wasn’t much time to examine the surroundings because my food was served quickly. My chicken plate was an array of colors: the chicken breast was bright orange, served with white rice in butter, beans, and salad, garnished with a lively lime slice and fresh salsa. The chicken had a great slightly lemony flavor and the fresh salsa added a nice touch of spice, although not enough for my taste. The rice was a little hard, as though it had been sitting too long, and thoroughly buttered. Again, I was hoping for something spicier. The salad was crisp and fresh but dry without dressing.
The quesadilla was delicious. Beans, cheese, chicken and salsa were wrapped in a toasted tomato basil tortilla. The flavored tortilla added a yummy twist although I couldn’t finish the generous portion.
Other items on the menu include burritos ($4), tacos ($3.50), pupusas ($1.25) and carne guisada (steak fried in special sauce, $8).
The home-cooking atmosphere made me feel like I was invited in to enjoy a special meal created just for me, even though I couldn’t speak Spanish. For a dining experience that feels like a visit to someone’s home but tastes like a trip to El Salvador, Tu Casa is the place.