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Restaurant Profile: El Calderon

by David Graham

The best restaurant in Old Mountain View isn’t anywhere near Castro Street.  It’s El Calderon in a quiet little strip mall at Calderon and Church Streets.  El Calderon makes Salvadoran and some Mexican food.  You can get better Mexican food in the Bay Area but not better Salvadoran food.  What is Salvadoran food?  Pupusas are dough pockets with melted cheese or pork and cheese inside.  In some restaurants they can be greasy because the chefs favor manteca – lard – to give food a rich taste.  At El Calderon they specifically use little oil, and it’s vegetable, making lighter and tastier pupusas.  “Lighter and tastier” seems to be a theme at El Calderon.
Try the Salvadoran Tamales.  They are made with a different kind of corn meal than Mexican tamales and they are cooked in a banana leaf, not a corn husk.  The outside tastes much lighter than any tamale anywhere else.  The filling is chicken and little bits of potato, beans, and other yummies.

Another theme at El Calderon is vegetarian food.  Look at Meals 9 and 10.   No. 9 has gently fried yucca, a Central American starch, plus a pupusa and the mandatory rice, beans, and salad.  Meal 10 is bananas, gently fried, with cream, plus the sides.  We usually get a side of the bananas for the kids.  The bananas make a great dessert with no processed sugar.

Sample El Calderon’s specialties.  If you have a cold, try the Caldo de Pollo.  It is a very hearty chicken soup.  If you have the need for a good steak, the Beefsteak Encebollado is a ribeye steak in a tomato sauce with onions and green peppers.

Kids and family are another theme at El Calderon–as you walk in, you will see photos of the vast family of the proprietress, Lita Lopez.  My family has three young children.  The staff knows how to bring their food fast, and nobody gets uptight if someone under the age of eight misbehaves.  It’s a neighborhood family restaurant.  It’s not fancy.  It’s homey and the food is good.

A word on price–El Calderon is a bargain.  Meals seem to cost about 75% of what they would have on Castro Street.

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