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By Jim Duncan

El Sabor Latino

Several years ago, the Wall Street Journal asked famous chefs how they deal with people at a dinner party who can’t eat certain foods. Julia Child responded with unflappable poise “simply un-invite them.” Her answer shocked foodies who could imagine nothing more humiliating than being uninvited from a cherished place at the table of the grand dame of French cooking. Picky eating suddenly was out of vogue.

Soon afterwards, a new breed of chef hit celebrity status with extreme food adventures. Tony Bourdain consumed the beating heart of a cobra on the Food Network and Andrew Zimmern dedicated his entire Travel Channel series, “Bizarre Foods,” to outdoing Bourdain. Lyall Watson and Fergus Henderson wrote best sellers — at least in Europe — about eating every single part of an animal, with relish.

I’ve been trying my best to acquire new tastes. So when I heard about Maria Ortiz’s sopa de patas at the El Salvadoran café El Sabor Latino, I girded my loins and set out to add another extreme notch to my belt. I was served a reprieve on my first effort. Sopa de patas is so difficult to prepare that Maria only makes it on Saturdays. It’s so popular that her son-in-law and waiter Ezekiel explained — “It’s ready at 11 a.m. and if you want some, you’d better be here by 3 o’clock, because it sells out fast.”

In Los Angeles and Central America, sopa de patas is regarded as the ultimate hangover cure. Also known as “menudo-plus,” it’s a screaming bowl of tripe and cows feet augmented with familiar vegetables like carrots, potatoes, cabbage cores, onions, chilies and tomato, plus some unfamiliar fruits and vegetables like plantain, yucca, loroco and hard corn. There was probably something else I couldn’t identify. My bowl came with a huge amount of cow gut and ankle tendon. Alas, I am no Andrew Zimmern. I loved the broth and ate all my veggies, but I didn’t even begin to get through the generous serving of animal parts.

El Sabor has plenty to offer less daring diners, too. I settled my stomach with plantain-filled empanadas, a delightful reward for taking one’s medicine. The pupusa is the hamburger of El Salvador, the dish that best represents the national culture. Fairs and farmers markets have familiarized many Iowans with them, but Maria’s will convert new believers. They are made, like all her corn-derived dishes (including extra thick dinner tacos) with fresh masa — lime soaked cornmeal paste. Like French fries, pupusas should be eaten fresh off the griddle, while their outside is still hot and fluffy and their filling (cheese, loroco, bean or chicharron) is molten. El Sabor’s service delivered smoking hot pupusas with both a hot and a cold salsa rojo (milder than Mexican salsas) plus a jar of “curtido,” a vinegary slaw of cabbage, carrots and onions. In most Mexican restaurants, chicharron means crispy pork rinds that look like potato chips on steroids. El Sabor’s chicharron had more meat on the skin and softer texture.

I also enjoyed excellent beef stew, tamales steamed in banana leaves and a sandwich so good that Ezekiel made one for himself when he prepared mine — a chicken torta, with roasted breast meat in sweet hot slaw on a fresh hoagie style bun.

I saved the best news for last. El Sabor serves breakfast anytime, and it’s one of the best in town, with fresh avocado and Salvadoran (sour) cream, black bean frijoles, fried plantains and salsa accessorizing eggs and sausage. El Sabor serves cane sugar soft drinks, including home made horchata, but no alcohol.

Side dishes

Gateway Market is now selling Lost Hills Farm’s Wagyu beef, all at least 75 percent Wagyu (the USDA requires only 50 percent for the aegis) $7/pound for burger and $60/pound for rib-eyes or N.Y. cuts… Fred Horstman of Pleasant Hill took first place in whole hog and second place overall at World Pork Expo’s BarBQlossal. CV

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