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Restaurant Review - Pondering the pupusa

Costa del Sol's Salvadoran snack

Discovering pupusas is the best thing that's ever happened to me. Well, it's at least the best thing that's ever happened to me in Norcross.

I must admit that I am unfamiliar with the majority of Central America's delicacies. I can hold my own with standard Mexican choices, but as I delve into the delectables farther south, I'm often thrown for a loop. So the pupusa was perplexing.

The Salvadoran snacks are what got me out to Costa del Sol. The brightly lit Central American-Mexican restaurant hidden along Jimmy Carter Boulevard was empty on a weekday night, and half of the restaurant, with chairs on table tops, had already been closed down for the evening. We found a booth and began rummaging through the menu to the loud sound of a Spanish soap opera coming from a nearby TV.

The menu is pages long and loaded with choices. You won't find any numbered Mexican combo platters, but there are tons of tacos, taquitos and quesos at dirt-cheap prices. Whole lobster is $21.95; otherwise prices are low. Be sure to keep flipping, as the Honduran and Salvadoran selections are hidden in the back of the menu. That's where you'll find a paradise of pupusas.

These corn masa patties have gobs of gooey cheese inside, along with different meats and vegetables. Each is only $1.50. But don't think that cheap means skimpy. An order of three pupusas, two revueltas (pork and cheese) and one with loroco (a wild Salvadoran plant bud) was plenty. I also ordered a plate of plantains, a steal at $2.75 (adding cream or other sides pushes the price up a bit).

When the pupusas arrived, they looked boring — like three pancakes. But when broken open, the seasoned shredded pork oozed out and begged to be bitten. The loroco-and-cheese combo was not as satisfying as the pork, but both were worth the trip. A side of pickled cabbage (curtido) arrived with the plate and proved an intense counterpoint to the rich flavors of the pupusas.

The plantains were equally good. The firm pile of darkened fruit cut lengthwise was served with a side of beans. The inside of each slice was sweet, mushy and oh-so nice.

Passing up the soft tacos and hearty seafood soups available (crab or snail, $9.50), my friend chose the El Centro Americano ($9.50). It came with pork or steak, sausage, beans, rice, avocado, cheese and pico de gallo. When my friend asked the server if he recommended the pork or the steak, the server offered both meats. The plate arrived piled high with food, and we found we were in for more than we bargained.

The steak was beaten flat and well seasoned, but the pork turned out to be dry. The rest of the selections were gobbled up without any complaints.

Sure, there are problems with Costa del Sol. The mopping began before we were finished and I had to hold my nose so the antiseptic smell didn't spoil my pupusa epiphany.

But when a couple arrived and ordered plates of pupusas, I smiled at the chance to even glimpse the divine little snacks again. If I could've stomached another round, I would have ordered them on the spot.??