PORTLAND – When trying to describe the El Salvadoran cuisine of Tu Casa on Washington Avenue, it’s best to avoid comparisons with Mexican food.
In fact, it’s best not to worry about geographic origins altogether and focus on the real strength of Tu Casa — namely, that everything tastes fresh and homemade.
So whether Tu Casa’s tacos or quesadillas taste like ones from a Mexican restaurant is not the question. More likely you’ll find the rice and beans, tacos or pupusas taste like the homemade versions of those dishes, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to try any.
Tu Casa has been serving low-cost, high quality Salvadoran food for about 12 years from an unassuming building in the city’s East End that looks more like a house than an eatery.
It can get pretty busy at lunchtime, and my phone order on a recent lunch hour took about 20 minutes. But it was well worth the wait, and the price. I got three items for about $12: a pupusa — a thick corn tortilla with pureed meat inside — for $1.75; beans and rice for $4.50; and a chicken taco for $5.50.
The beans and rice or the taco could have been lunch for most people by themselves. With all three, I had enough for two days of filling lunches.
The pupusa was golden brown on the outside, and the meat filling was pretty mild. It was round and about the size of a tea plate. My lunch came with a medium hot sauce on the side, perfect for dipping the pupusa in.
The beans and rice was pretty much a puree of red beans over a mound of buttery rice. Not very spicy, but very good. The chicken taco was huge for a taco, more the size of a burrito, with chunks of cooked chicken, lettuce, tomato, avocado and cheese. It held together very well and was as good a taco and/or burrito as I’ve had.
My lunch also came with a baggie full of some sort of slaw made of pickled cabbage and carrots. It was nice, but I wasn’t sure if should put it on something or eat it on the side. I ate it on the side.
Some of the other intriguing low-cost options on the Tu Casa menu include tamale Salvadorenos, featuring chicken wrapped in a banana leaf for $1.95, fried plantains for $3.95, and quesadillas and tacos from $5 to $5.50.
Then there are entrees like beef enchiladas for $8.50, a meat stew with potatoes and carrots called carne guisada for $10.50, and an order of three taquitos for $9 or $10, depending on the fillings.
Tu Casa is in a good spot for take-out, as it’s on the way to downtown or to the parks and scenery of the Eastern Promenade. But there’s also plenty of seating inside, and some picnic tables on a patio outside.
There’s also a kid’s menu, with a child’s portion of rice and beans for $3.50, a bean and cheese quesadilla for $3.50, or some chicken nuggets for $3.50.
The staff of GO samples meals for about $10.