Open daily, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 to 10:30 p.m., except closed Tuesday evenings. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations. Prices: Platters $3.50 to $7; a la carte items such as tacos and burritos average $1.25 to $2.
No tablecloths. No flowers. Just paper streamers and travel posters of El Salvador. The fanciest fixture at Los Planes de Renderos is the tape deck on the bar, playing Latin music.
The seven-page menu is even more entertaining than the music, its bebidas mixtas including (at rock-bottom prices) such exotica as "side car" and a very good pina colada. The three-beer limit per person is declared in Spanish, and the menu thereafter slips from Spanish to English and back again as seamlessly as the prices slip from cheap to moderately high and back to cheap.
Obviously you will need guidance unless you arrive with a ready knowledge of Spanish and a pocket calculator.
To start, a quarter-chicken platter costs $4.60, a half-chicken platter (admittedly without sauteed onions, peppers and tomatoes) $4.65. Two stuffed peppers and an enchilada a la carte total $5.75, so a platter of them with refried beans, Spanish rice and a slab of white cheese for $5.40 is a bargain. But the similarly garnished platter of two tacos and enchilada for $5.10 costs significantly more than the a la carte price of $3.75. To further complicate ordering, a bowl of the daily soup one day was excellent fish soup well stocked with pieces of fish, but no bargain at $3, while a $3 platter called "yuca frita con chicharron y repollo" turned out to be a delicious thin, crips, highly seasoned pork chop with crunchy-edged chunks of yuca, a substantial platter for the price.
In other words, if you choose carefully, Los Planes des Renderos can be one of the best meal bargains in the city.
Look at the non-alcoholic beverages. Ensalada de Frutus is fresh melon and pineapple whipped with water and ice in a blender, quite a refreshment for 60 cents. Coffee is 35 cents. A glass of wine is $1, a beer $1.10 up, a Drambuie $1.75. But a glass of supersweet watered-down tamarind juice is 60 cents.
The first three pages of food list platters with rousing names such as La Libertad (shrimp with onions, peppers and tomatoes, $7), Sonsonate (charcoal broiled steak, $6.25) and Acapulco (burrito with beef and cheese plus two tacos, $5.10), then a children's taco platter with french fries and salad ($2.25). But the heart of the menu is page 4, the a la carte section.
Tacos here, designated regular, soft or special and costing $1.25 to $1.50, are puffy or crisp, depending on which you order. Well stuffed with cumin and garlic-spiced ground meat, they are not seasoned violently, but you can ignite them with some of the fresh red hot sauce on the table that you probably have depleted by dunking the entire basket of tortilla chips. Already you will have noted that the tomatoes and onions in the hot sauce and on the tacos are fresh and lively rather than having hung around the kitchen all day before being served.
Back to the a la carte list. It includes perfectly good versions of all the Mexican staples: burritos, chiles rellenos, chalupas, enchiladas, nachos, refried beans and tamales. And it contain less familiar items you should try. Pupusas, only 70 cents each, are homemade cornmeal cakes stuffed with a thin layer of spiced pork or cheese and pan fried so that the surface is well browned and the edges are crisp. The empanadas here are excellent, one of the high-priced items at $2.25, but plumply stuffed with aromatic meat and cheese in a flaky dough. You can order just fried plantains with yogurt, or just some white cheese, a chunk of which comes with each combination platter. In other words, you can construct a simple or elaborate meal with little money. But certainly include an order of tortillas (25 cents), for they are homemade and thicker than you may expect, but truly taste of corn and are a revelation if you have only tasted packaged tortillas.
Los Planes de Renderos is not known for its niceties; the fish will not be boned, and the chicken, though well seasoned and crisp, may be reheated. Delicacies are not what you will be served. But they will be large portions of good earthy food, a lot of substance for the money.
Don't try to save room for dessert. There isn't any.