Competing for the same patrons on the same block are 11th Street's contributions to lovers of Latin food -- the neon-lit, boldly modern Spectrum, and the older, more modest Los Planes de Renderos, entering its eighth year of service.
Since the two establishments are within a stone's throw of one another, why would anyone opt to dine in the spartan, square box that constitutes the dining room of Los Planes de Renderos?
No doubt because this reliable eatery offers gargantuan portions of delicious Salvadoran dishes and does so at reasonable prices. And if the setting could use some sprucing up, a meal won't set you back much.
This family-run restaurant offers a lengthy menu that goes beyond the standard offerings of tacos, enchiladas, and such. Appetizers have been consistently good, and because they are such hefty plattersful, I'd be tempted to make a meal of one or two of them. The gordita arrives as a meat salad of sorts, juicy steak chunks topped with melted grated cheese, sauteed onions, lettuce and a dollop of sour cream. Thin quesadillas -- tortilla "turnovers" -- play the smoothness of refried beans and cheese against the piquancy of peppers. And those thick cornmeal pancakes, pupusitas, are truly delicious, sandwiched with seasoned finely ground beef. By all means try the yuca frita con chicharon y repollo, which is as much to eat as it is to pronounce: long thick slices of crisp yucca root (the tropical version of steak fries) and a slightly tart side of cabbage accompany pieces of well-seasoned pork.
You want soup? There are three from which to choose: fish, seafood and shrimp, the last of which is a golden broth infused with herbs and a fistful of vegetables.
Main courses are reliable if not always as special as the starters, running the gamut from fried fish to steaks and chicken plus a variety of Mexican-type savories. The crisp-skinned roast chicken tends to lack character (although its topping of sauteed onions, peppers and tomatoes made up for any dryness), and the crab in the enchiladas is generous if stringy, but these are minor flaws. A welcome break from the standard tortilla-wrapped fare is the tiguana, a filling and cheesy beef pie in a delicious pastry-like crust. The entrees would be a meal in themselves, but are accompanied with refried beans and vegetable-flecked rice.
(Margarita lovers take note: the drinks here are of the unfrozen variety, and they pack a pleasant punch.)
Lunch sees this restaurant at its busiest, though the staff is quick to seat guests. Service has been consistently swift and agreeable.
Given its proximity to the bus station, this restaurant offers better food than you'd expect, and at a price you will welcome. I'd call it an affordable addiction.