La Chiquita

Salvadoran
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

Looks like the third time's the charm: What once was Dairy World and then a Chinese takeout joint has emerged as a good place to pick up tender pupusas and a hearty Desayuno Tipico breakfast, served all day.

About a year and a half ago, Salvadoran immigrants Jose and Dora Hilda Escobar transformed the former pink-and-white structure at East West Highway and New Hampshire Avenue into a cheerful, bright-blue-and-yellow eatery with seating for about 55, most of it on the wraparound porch. Inside, friendly servers in yellow shirts take orders for the dozen or so specialties of the house, made by Salvadoran cooks with Escobar family recipes.

Not much English is spoken here, but the staff's positive vibe and a helpful bilingual fellow customer can help with the details. On a recent morning, Roger Fernandez, a coach for Real Maryland FC (a Division II United Soccer League team), came in for his daily breakfast of fluffy scrambled eggs with vegetables, sauteed plantains, refried black beans and crema ($7). "It's really good, and inexpensive," he said between bites. "And I think their pupusas are the best." Jose nodded.

He might be right. Filled with either refried beans or cheese, the round masa flatbreads are neither heavy nor greasy ($1.25 each). The tacos de lengua (or chicken or steak; $2.25 each) are substantially filled with chewy and crisped bits of meat, hard-cooked egg halves, slices of jalapeo pepper and radish. But the best bargain might be the pan con pollo estilo Salvadoreo ($5), a sandwich stuffed with tender shredded chicken in a tomato sauce plus avocado, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and the egg-pepper-radish combo.

The mixed fajita platter ($10) allows sampling of grilled shrimp (which was a little salty), carne asada and chicken, served with rice, pico de gallo, beans and two thick, house-made corn tortillas. Other menu items include platters of fried fish or grilled chicken and several kinds of soup. Horchata (small, $1.50; large, $3) and a variety of soft drinks and juices are available.

On weekdays, you might want to call ahead to order during the restaurant's rush hours of 1 to 3 p.m. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the place is always packed, Fernandez said -- at which Jose smiled and nodded again.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick (Good to Go, July 8, 2009)