The Top 10 Restaurants In San Salvador, El Salvador
El Salvador may be the smallest country in Central America but it punches above its weight when it comes to food. Nowhere more so than in San Salvador, the capital, where art cafés and high end restaurants stand shoulder to shoulder with top-notch burger joints and neighborhood canteens serving Salvadoran classics. These top ten restaurants show the city’s cuisine at its very best.
A favorite among expats and travelers craving a taste of home, Rustico Bistro is widely regarded to serve the best burgers in the capital. Despite the ubiquity of American-inspired cuisine in San Salvador, it’s a difficult claim to dispute. The succulent beef patties arrive atop soft burger buns that are freshly made in house and come with a variety of toppings, including avocado, smoked bacon, caramelized onions and Swiss cheese. Hot dogs and pulled pork sandwiches are also available, while the drinks menu features an excellent selection of bottled beers. If you have room, there are all-American desserts too, including chocolate chip cookies, cheesecake and decadent brownies.
Stylish Citron in Zona Rosa is an excellent choice for fine dining. The restaurant itself is light and airy with contemporary art on the walls, while the seasonally changing menu is ingenious, taking classic Salvadoran ingredients and combining them with influences from further afield. The result is cleverly worked dishes such as venison chorizo with confit tomato and a fresh pesto made from epazote, a Central American herb with a distinctive flavor often likened to fennel. With buttery squash ravioli and stuffed mushrooms also on offer, vegetarians needn’t feel left out. Many of the ingredients, including the raspberries that appear beside creme brûlée on the dessert menu, are grown nearby.
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Not only does Los Tacos de Paco serve some of the best and most authentic Mexican food in San Salvador, but it also doubles as a bookshop and art gallery, holding poetry readings on Wednesday nights. Popular with members of the city’s arts scene, these literary gatherings celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2012 and are a great place to meet like-minded locals. Meanwhile you can tuck into plates piled high with Mexican street food staples, such as crisp tacos and golden quesadillas oozing with melted cheese, which all go perfectly with a cold beer.
You can’t visit El Salvador without trying pupusas, the country’s national dish and one of the highlights of Central American cuisine. At Comedor Pupuseria La Ceiba, a no-frills cafe and local favorite, these soft maize or rice flour patties are freshly made to order. They arrive lightly charred from the griddle, stuffed with cheese, black beans, ground pork (chicharrón) or loroco, the buds of a flowering vine common throughout the country. La Ceiba serves its pupusas as tradition dictates: with fresh tomato salsa and a generous helping of curtido, an addictive pickled vegetable garnish with a kick.
Clinging to the forested slopes of the Boqueron, the extinct Volcano that towers above San Salvador, Pampa El Volcán boasts sweeping views of the city below, while its terraces and leafy gardens offer welcome respite from the bustle of downtown. Part of the Pampa Argentina restaurant group, a popular local chain renowned for its steaks, grilled Argentine sausages and hearty breakfasts, this latest branch opened in 2012 and has quickly earned a loyal following. The churrasco steaks are among the most popular dishes on the menu but quality is consistent throughout and with views this spectacular it hardly matters what you order.
Those looking for a crash course in Salvadoran cuisine would do well to visit Panaderia Latino, one of the best spots for a bite in San Salvador’s historic center. Like in many of the city’s comedores (neighborhood restaurants), service is buffet style, so queue up with the regulars and choose from the huge range of options. These include pollo encebollado (chicken with sticky sweet onions), flash-fried cuts of beef in tomato salsa, and crisp yucca (cassava root). Quench your thirst with glass of agua fresca, such as homemade lemonade or horchata, a milky drink made with ground morro seeds sweetened with sugar and cinnamon.
A strong contender for San Salvador’s best budget restaurant and testament to the influence of the far East on the capital’s food culture, Uncle Yang‘s is as reliable as they come. Service is friendly and efficient and the portions of rice and chow mein topped with stir-fried vegetables and prawns are more than generous. A glass of milky iced Taiwanese tea bobbing with jet-black tapioca dumplings is a must have on any visit. Conveniently located in the west of the city, Uncle Yang’s is a short walk from many of San Salvador’s best museums and galleries, including the Museo de Arte de El Salvador.
An art café hosting regular exhibitions, live jazz and Latin American folk music on Fridays, and film screenings on Wednesday and Thursday nights, La ‘T’ is gem. Near the Universidad de El Salvador, it draws a bohemian young crowd who ensure that the atmosphere stays lively and the prices remain low. It makes a great late night hangout with a comprehensive drinks list that features everything from freshly made fruit juices and excellent coffee to inventive cocktails. A selection of homemade cakes and small bites are also on offer if you’re feeling peckish. Recently redecorated, the café’s outer walls are adorned with colorful murals painted by local artists, its worth a visit to see them alone.
While consistently praised for the quality of its cocktails, slick service and first-rate Italian cuisine, Il Bongustaio is just as notable for its setting. The elegant dining room, with its marble floors, pillars and arches, belongs to a boutique hotel and overlooks a verdant garden and terrace. Start the meal with a gin and tonic from the bar before consulting the excellent wine list. Fresh pasta dishes come highly recommended, as does the salt baked fish, while the chocolate soufflé makes for a delicious dessert. Il Bongustaio is ideal for a special occasion but it’s wise to book ahead.
Celebrating 18 years supporting San Salvador’s arts scene with monthly arts exhibitions and a packed calendar of events, La Ventana is something of an institution in the capital. It’s cafe-style menu starts with affordably priced set lunches, soups and salads, moving through to international fare that includes Italian, French, Mexican and German classics (think currywurst and schnitzel). Add to that an amply stocked bar which plies its regulars with well-made cocktails, wines, sangria, and bottled beers and it’s easy to say why La Ventana has stood the test of time.