This week, we continue our tour of Amarillo Boulevard, with its diverse representation of the many cultures that call Amarillo home.
Although this diner has not had the pleasure of eating every available cuisine, a lifetime of culinary research has led me to suspect that there is one universal food truth: Fillings tucked into dough and cooked become portable pockets of deliciousness, nourishing reminders of home and heritage. Often diminutive in size, these dishes have the transcendent ability to exponentially grow when they are shared. Comfort is multiplied when given away.
Dumplings, egg rolls, bao, hand pies, calzones, ravioli, tamales—different flavors representing different ingredients and cooked in myriad ways, but essentially the same—if good things, as they say, come in small packages, the love, comfort, hospitality, portability and nourishment of a few ingredients encased in carbs is the ideal example. El Salvadorian cuisine’s contribution to that delicious list, its national dish the pupusa, is uniquely craveable. Luckily, El Carbonero Restaurant and Pupuseria brings the warmth, comfort and flavors of classic pupusas to Amarillo Boulevard.
For the uninitiated, a pupusa is a masa mixture wrapped around filling or fillings with a supremely melty white cheese, pressed flat, and griddled to a perfect soft-crisp golden brown. When ordering, you simply cannot make a bad choice. El Carbonero offers nine varieties, all of which are better than the last. Start with a Pupusa De Loroco Con Queso. Seldom used as a featured ingredient in the United States, but used widely as a flavoring in Central America, the small green loroco flower is a herbaceous, slightly nutty, and unique complement to the rich and salty melted cheese. For a meaty, rich, flavorful and wildly pleasing pairing, get the Pupusa Revueltas. Tender pork and cheese cooked into the corn tortilla-like crust are perfectly complemented by the house-made topping encurtido, a lightly-pickled, crisp and salty cabbage and carrot slaw. A Pupusa De Chicharron Con Queso defies the laws of texture, as the chicharrons keep a slight crunch even while enveloped by cheese.
Even though the Pupusa makes a compelling case for being the perfect food, other dishes on the menu are just as delectable. El Carbonero has an impressive selection, offering a wide variety of grilled dishes, and many traditional Mariscos or seafood options, as well.
Tender and flavorful Carne Guisada is crowd-pleasing comfort food, perfected at El Carbonero. Slow-stewed meat cooked in a light tomato sauce and topped with soft-cooked carrots and slices of potato, combine to make a wholly pleasing and cozy dish. Served with thick, soft, and flavorful corn tortillas, which are freshly made and piping hot, the Carne Guisada meets and exceeds every expectation for the ubiquitous dish.
A showstopper that plays on flavors and textures is the Pina Rellena de Camerons. A generous portion of shrimp and scallops is combined with peppers and mushrooms cooked in a cream sauce, topped with cheese, and served baked in half a pineapple. The sweet acidity of the pineapple juxtaposed with the luscious rich cream sauce makes for a succulent and truly savory dish. Save room for the rice served on the side. It may be overshadowed by the pineapple filling 80 percent of the plate, but the flavor is impeccable. Unique to El Carbonero, it is clear the recipe was perfected and passed down as a staple of the restaurant and never as an afterthought.
El Salvador is the smallest of the Central American countries, but the heaping helpings of hospitality and flavorful food at El Carbonero are reflective of the proud and delicious history that we are lucky to have a taste of in Amarillo.