BELLINGHAM - For the second in our two-part series about south-of-the-border-but-not-Mexican restaurants in Bellingham, we checked out Super Mario's, the Salvadorian restaurant on Northwest Avenue.
Last month, we chowed down on Peruvian sandwiches at Café Rumba, just across the street from The Herald Building, and experienced some sauces and seasonings that were new to us.
At Super Mario's, the food is a bit more familiar because it is a lot closer to Mexican, featuring tortillas, rice and beans. But the Savadorian approach is distinctive. (Orthographic note: Dictionaries list both "Salvadoran" and "Salvadorian" as acceptable spellings, but Super Mario's uses "Salvadorian" on business cards.)
The distinctive national dish to try here is the pupusa: a thick, fresh tortilla stuffed with refried beans, white cheese and a bit of shredded pork, accompanied with spicy cole slaw and tomato salsa. It seems as though most cultures have some sort of unpretentious, filling, tasty thing that forms the local mainstay, and in El Salvador it's the pupusa.
At $6.99, a pupusa plate is thrifty as well as tasty and filling.
The grilled chicken plate is also a good and tasty deal at $6.99. It comes with three fresh corn tortillas, rice, and beans - not refried, but whole, pleasantly seasoned with cilantro. The dark-meat serving of drumstick and thigh was moist, tender and mildly seasoned, but our server provided us with a red plastic squeeze bottle of house-made red chile sauce that added a wonderful earth-and-fire accent to the poultry and the tortillas.
The server told us this sauce was "hot." While it was hotter than ketchup, it was really rather mild by Mexican or Asian standards, so don't be afraid of it. This is the kind of red sauce that Mexican restaurants should offer on their enchiladas and stews, but it is inexplicably difficult to find outside of the Southwest.
Another special feature here are dessert or breakfast pastries. There are several varieties. We tried the cuernitos rellenos - "stuffed little horns." They are a sort of croissant, except crispy and crumbly instead of flaky, and crusted with sugar. They come stuffed with fruit or cheese fillings. They were delicious, but next time I'm going to take them home and warm them up before eating, to make them even better. They sell for a buck apiece.
Super Mario's is a no-frills place tucked into the little strip mall across the street from Yeager's, in a location that gives it little visibility to passing traffic. You walk up and order at the counter, and grab a soft drink from the cooler. The no-frills prices and the Salvadorian accent makes this a place worth looking for.
Address: 3008 Northwest Ave., Bellingham
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Price range: $7-$11.