Thursday, May 31, 2012

Glorious Gloria's!

Lots of people know Gloria Vargas (below left) from her long-running gig at the Beaverton Farmers' Market, dishing out signature Salvadoran-style tamales with their sensuous banana leaf wrappers and lighter-than-air cornmeal filling wrapped around fall-apart tender chicken, pork or vegetables. But even area locals haven't picked up on the fact that just blocks away lies Gloria's home base, from whence flows her market goodness.

From the outside a cheery storefront with café tables and flowers on the sidewalk, step inside Gloria's Secret Café and you're instantly transported to sunnier climes with intriguing aromas of chiles and spices wafting through the air. Salvadoran cuisine, while not spicy hot, still has the signature complex mix of herbs and spices found in most Latin cuisines. Sauces often contain dozens of ingredients, and can take a couple of days to simmer to perfection.

My luck was on overdrive when I stopped in for lunch the other day, since Gloria was featuring Salvadoran chile rellenos (top photo) as the daily special. Made with green bell peppers rather than the more typical Anaheim or poblanos, she somehow roasted them so that instead of having an acidic bite they had a sweeter, fuller character.

Stuffed with long-braised, fork-tender pork and covered with an intriguing chunky tomato-based sauce, every forkful caused my eyes to roll back in my head. The brightly colored plate also held Gloria's outstandingly flavorful black beans, a beautiful serving of saffron-colored rice and a small vinaigrette-infused salad of seasonal greens. If this dish is on the menu when you go, order it immediately before someone else takes the last one…it goes quickly and when it's gone, it's gone.

My friend's pupusas (right), essentially a layer of meat sealed and pressed between two masa pancakes, were the best I've had of this quintessential Salvadoran dish, with their fresh corn flavor, rich filling and the lightness that comes from skilled, caring hands (any hint of oiliness or overcooking can make these heavy and tough). These were accompanied by the same terrific beans, rice and salad that I had, along with the traditional sides of quick-pickled cabbage and a tangy salsa.

If there's any better, fresher Latin food in town, especially at such reasonable prices, I have yet to find it. And with authentic Salvadoran cuisine in short supply in Portland, it's definitely worth a quick trip out to the burbs for lunch. I'm intrigued by Gloria's dinner offerings, which are only available by calling ahead and making a reservation…I'll be sure and report back when I do!

Details: Gloria's Secret Café, 12500 SW Broadway St., Beaverton. 503-268-2124.

1 comment:

KP said...

Great description of Gloria's wonderful cafe and food! Don't forget to mention her charm, consistent good cheer and personal Mom's-home-cookin' service that comes along for free. We love Gloria and her cooking, and come for lunch regularly, but more people need to discover this tiny gem. Only problem is trying to observe my weight-loss diet of small portions here; have to set that aside for these visits.