by Dan Johnson
Fun facts for you: in 2014 more than 2.1 million Salvadorans were living in the United States. In Los Angeles alone there are over 67,000 Salvadoran households. Remittances sent from Salvadoran households in Los Estados Unidos back to El Salvador tally up to sixteen percent of El Salvador’s GDP. Though heavily Catholic, the Salvadoran faith tends to skew towards Protestantism, namely the bare bones Pentecostal and Born Again faiths you’ll see represented in any number of seven-day-a-week storefront churches in Westlake, MacArthur Park, Pico Union and South LA.
We’re talking about an industrious lot who dig their Jesus and save their nickels. If you need proof of these phenomena, look no farther than Restaurante Salvadoreño Cabañas at Olympic and Hill where the altar candles are lit and the grub is cheap.
The Hanover is within eye shot. Miasmas of the Broadway renaissance carry notes of craft cocktails and artisanal luggage from the nearby Ace Hotel and Tanner Leather Goods. But we’re south of Olympic in the heart of off-brand Downtown where most tread only to buy weed or worship with the rock band-equipped, hip kid mega church at the Belasco.
So when I say “cabaña” I don’t mean a pool side party suite in Las Vegas where you rack up a thousand dollar bottle service tab in the hope of impressing spray tanned females so they will come to accept your steroid ravaged approximation of genitalia. I mean “cabaña” in its purer context—a shack or cabin.
RSC is a dining hall for the working class. There is a well-stocked fridge full of $3.50 beers that also doubles as a stand for an immaculately tended grotto paying tribute to Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and sweet commerce. There is an old CD jukebox with jams ranging from Julio Iglesias to Hermanos Flores. The walls are hung with old fashioned El Salvador tourism posters that would be ironic or kitschy in your loft. Here they play like a cure for homesickness tinged with the bitter reality that the idyllic El Salvador represented in these images was absolutely gutted in a twelve year civil war.
If I had to do it all over, I would have just ordered the pupusas like your average white asshole who is already punching outside of his weight class by strolling through the door. But I got fancy and ordered the carne chile relleno. The woman working the counter was gracious as all hell, but I think she suspected that I was a douche with ulterior motives, so my $8 dish came out to a cool $9.
Where did the extra twenty-eight cents go? Answers I do not have. I soon became perplexed with a much deeper riddle. Above one of the refrigerators was a sign that read “No Bikes No Pets No Public Restrooms Inside.” The grammatical implication there is that someone would have the audacity to bring their own public restroom inside as if it were equivalent to a bicycle or a labrador retriever. I should also mention that there are “CASH ONLY” signs everywhere. Lest you have the inclination to roll up and slap your AmEx on the counter.
The food was as uninspiring as American foreign aid to El Salvador was in the 1980s. The quantity was not the issue. I received not only a chile relleno, but rice, beans and a couple of tortillas for my trouble. But, like any sort of financial or military assistance from the Yanqui warlord Reagan and his sinister cabal of School of the Americas trained anti-communist zealots, the meal lacked a certain sincerity. Where was the flavor? Why was all the watery liquid draining from the chile? Was that a lime wedge hidden in a pile of lettuce? Was eating this in my best interest?
I left feeling full. Full of what I couldn’t say. I began to ruminate on my lost twenty-eight cents and ominous rumblings near my rectal outspout that were cause for unfounded alarm. I focused on everything that could have been better.
But that’s not life, is it? There wasn’t anything wrong with the meal per se. I would even call it a value. I was full for a very long time. “It lacked flavor” begins to sound like the bratty little kid who goes to Disneyland for his birthday but doesn’t get to ride Space Mountain twice. There’s a lot to be said for things that are merely sufficient.
Unfortunately, I am still petty and guided by a very simple price point, so on the pure $8.72 binary I award Restaurante Salvadoreño Cabañas a “0.” On the “who the hell am I to assume you should conduct yourselves in a certain way because it makes this moral idiot more comfortable?” scale, I give RSC a heartfelt apology and a promise to return for pupusa pleasures.
You too can dine at Restaurante Salvadoreño Cabañas at 1003 S. Hill St.