Everything you need to know about Comedor y Pupuseria San Alejo at 1819 East West Highway in Hyattsville is right there in the name.
In El Salvador, a comedor is a humble restaurant that serves homespun food to everyone from plumbers to lawyers. A pupuseria serves pupusas, the filled flatbreads that are a staple of Salvadoran cuisine. And San Alejo is a rocky inland town in the country’s southeast corner, more of a beef and chicken than seafood area.
The goal of Comedor y Pupuseria San Alejo is to recreate this kind of Salvadoran eatery here in Maryland.
The menu reflects that, with traditional Salvadoran dishes like parillada, a meat-lover’s plate of grilled chicken, beef, pork sausage, shrimp and roasted peppers; bistec encebollado, a skillet steak cooked with onions and tomatoes; fajitas; and both classic and modern pupusas, which come with everything from fried pork to fresh zucchini inside. There’s also a selection of the kinds of fresh juices, soda, wine and beer you’d find in El Salvador.
But like a true comedor, it has also adapted to its customers, who range from construction workers, gardeners and office workers to families and church groups stopping by to eat together.
After the restaurant opened at 1819 East-West Highway in June of 2016, Salvadoran immigrants flocked to it. One customer in particular has come on the same day every week since for the bistec encebollado and carne deshilada.
But their kids — the second-generation Salvadoran-Americans — weren’t all that interested. They kept asking for quesadillas and burritos and enchiladas, so another page was added to the menu (euphemistically called “Otros Antojos,” or “other cravings”).
“We had a lot of people asking for burritos and we had all the ingredients in the kitchen,” manager Carlos Alvarado told the Hyattsville Wire. “We thought, ‘Why don’t you just make it?'”
Even then, San Alejo puts its own spin on the dishes. A plate of nachos, typically the most-neglected dish at a restaurant, comes with three cheeses, artfully drizzled with sour cream and topped with fresh avocado.
San Alejo has its own rhythm. Starting at 9 a.m. on weekdays, laborers stop in for the desayuno típico: two eggs, plantains, avocado and chorizo sausage. The lunch crowd hits, and then later come the diners looking for something from the surprisingly varied beer and wine selections.
On the weekends, families come to eat together, with one TV showing a soccer game on Univision while another showed an old Spider-Man movie. Throughout, customers stop in to pick up take-out orders.
The owners, who used some of the eatery’s proceeds to support five different charities working locally and abroad last year, are also branching out to catering, where the offerings aren’t limited to their menu. A recent Mother’s Day brunch for 60 people included New York steak with mashed potatoes and asparagus as well as a seafood option.
If you haven’t had Salvadoran cuisine before, Alvarado recommends the spinach and mushroom pupusa for beginners and the ground loroco buds for those looking for something unique. One of the most authentic dishes sounds the least: papas locas, French fries topped with ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard and shredded cheese, a ubiquitous appetizer in El Salvador. The menu leans toward red meat, but salmon a la plancha is a solid Salvadoran offering as well.
A refrigerator in the back has beers from Mexico and Central America such as Modelo Especial and Pacifico, or you can opt for a number of fun sodas, including grape, pineapple and strawberry, Fanta or Mexican Coke (made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup), or order a fruit smoothie made on site. The restaurant has a convenient Capitol Bikeshare station in front as well.
For more information on catering, call Alvarado at 301-789-6044.