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El Salvador + Peru

by B.A. Nilsson on November 29, 2012

Flores Family Restaurant, 1427 State St., Schenectady, 723-2281, floresfamilyrestaurant.com. Serving dinner 3-10 Mon-Fri, 11-10 Sat-Sun. D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Latin American

Entrée price range: $3 (chicken tamali) to $14 (steak and shrimp scampi)

Ambiance: muy casual

As Schenectady’s population continues to diversify, so too do its eateries. There’s now a stretch of Schenectady’s State Street that’s well on its way to offering one of the greater cuisine varieties in the Capital Region, and Flores Family Restaurant has been anchoring this stretch for about six years.

It sits between the intersections with Brandywine Avenue and Route 7, in what was formerly Brother Dominick’s Pub. And it remains publike in appearance, with a scattering of tables throughout the dining area and seats available at the bar. A large TV is tuned to Univisión. Small signs throughout the place remind us of the menu offerings.

When Osmin and Giuliana Flores opened the restaurant, it was to celebrate a more personal approach to the cuisine they grew up with. “I am from El Salvador,” Osmin explains, “and my wife is Peruvian.” He also works at the Halfmoon Diner, where he has been for over 20 years, and had a more American menu in mind for his own place, “but we looked at the neighborhood here and decided to try Spanish cuisine.”

And it has proven popular with a growing fan base of American customers.

Soup is a meal in itself here, served with rice and vegetables. Beef or chicken soup is $8, tilapia soup ($10) includes the whole fish, bones and all, as is traditional; a mixed seafood brew is $13.

Appetizers run from the $2 plantains with cream to an $8 plate of nachos, with chicken wings, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, rice and beans and corn tamales with cream priced in between. But that’s not the entirety of the apps list—more of them lurk in the “Latin American Dishes” column, such as a chicken or beef pie ($3) and a Salvadoran enchilada ($4).

Salchi papa ($7) is a Peruvian dish that might as well be American. It’s sliced-up hot dogs served amidst a plate of french fries with mildly spicy mustard, far more enjoyable than hot dogs have a right to be when outside of their buns.

We took a closer look at two other starters as well: Chicken tamal ($3) is a traditional dish throughout Latin America, its origins traced at least as far back as the Mayans. The Salvadoran style is to steam a dough of corn-based masa in a plantain leaf; what emerges is a savory pie filled, in this case, with shredded chicken and peppers, served with a ramekin of red onion and cilantro relish. It’s referred to as comfort food. No argument from me! The other specialty item is a pupusa ($2), a soft corn tortilla filled with cheese, greens and/or beans. It’s El Salvador’s national dish, and it’s a mark of pride to make a pupusa correctly. What’s served is a warm pillow of dough from which a steamy burst of flavor erupts as you bite off a section. Alongside, as is traditional, is a small dish of curtido, a mix of sweet pickled cabbage.

The Salvadoran enchilada with chicken or beef runs $4. Peruvian potatoes served with a spicy native sauce are $5.59. The same sauce comes with the Peruvian yucas ($6.50), which are a potato-like tuber known also as cassava.

One of the most popular items is pork with yuca ($8), which isn’t much to look at but has addictive flavor components helped by the fact that the pork nuggets and yuca pieces are fried. I asked for some hot salsa and was served homemade brew that hit the spot.

Another favorite dish is huevos “Flores” ($8), featuring eggs scrambled with tomatoes and peppers, served with rice and beans.

Mexican dishes include cheese or chicken quesadillas ($10), the same with beef ($12), three grilled chicken tacos ($11) or steak tacos for $12, chicken or steak burrito ($11/$12), fajitas with chicken ($11), steak or shrimp ($13 each).

We ordered a chicken quesadilla, in which the meat nestles with onions and peppers and is served with sour cream and homemade salsa, with a separate plate of rice and beans.

Other entrées include steak with onions and green plantains ($13), sautéed beef or chicken served with fried potatoes ($12 or $11), fried pork chop with plantains ($10), chicken in cream sauce ($10.50) and a couple of varieties of fried chicken ($10). Whole fried tilapia is $10, steamed fish with onions and peppers is $12, ditto with shrimp is $13, and again you get two sides. Among the combo plates are fried pork chop and charbroiled chicken breast ($11), grilled chicken breast and shrimp scampi ($13) and a steak and shrimp plate ($14) along with two side dishes.

And there are hamburgers for the indefatigable gringo.

Service is casual and cheerful and, although everything is made to order, the food arrives fairly quickly. You’re not going to find a better value in many other places. I suggested to Osmin that his prices were too low, and he shrugged and said he believes they’re in line with the neighborhood. I believe I’ll be spending more time in that neighborhood when I’m hungry.