East Side Vacation

Every trip to cheerful Salvadoran spot El Petate is an adventure.

 See how the pupusas are made at El Petate in our slideshow.

The Salvadoran restaurant in a little blue house with a broad front porch, facing Canal Street, has the sort of languidly lazy look to it that would inspire a postprandial nap, were there petates — mats woven out of palm fronds — on the shaded front porch, or hammocks hanging from the trees outside in the gravel parking lot.

El Petate has this almost vacation-like feel down, without even seeming to try. Part of it is the food — all deeply authentic Salvadoran dishes, from the more accessible mainstays like pupusas down to more off-the-beaten-path dishes like chilate y nuegados. And part of it is the cheerful decor, all giant maps and vivid color photos of jungles, which almost serves as a perfunctory travel guide to El Salvador itself.

Plato No. 1 comes with a Salvadoran tamale, two pupusas, fried plantains, beans and crema. And, of course, a giant jar of curtido.
Troy Fields
Plato No. 1 comes with a Salvadoran tamale, two pupusas, fried plantains, beans and crema. And, of course, a giant jar of curtido.

Location Info


El Petate

7433 Canal St.
Houston, TX 77011

Category: Restaurant > Salvadoran

Region: East End


Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Pupusa $1.25
Chilate y nuegados $4.50
Huevos estrellados $4.50
Salpicón $7.25
Plato No. 1 $8
Plato No. 4 $8
SLIDESHOW: East Side Vacation at El Petate
BLOG POST: East Side Vacation at El Petate: A Guide to Salvadoran Cuisine

For someone like me, who isn't as familiar with Salvadoran cuisine as, say, Indian or Vietnamese, every trip to El Petate is an adventure. I don't have a lot of money to travel, never have; visits to restaurants like these have long served as my version of a cheap vacation, made all the better by the fact that I can revisit my vacation destination week after week when I find myself craving the thick, nutty flavor of Salvadoran horchata or the spicy crunch of El Petate's homemade carrot-and-cabbage curtido, which I pile on top of each steaming-hot pupusa.

It's the pupusas that first drew me here, in fact. I'm an admitted sucker for the all-you-can-eat pupusa buffets of southwest Houston. (Hey, better that than a Golden Corral.) But earlier this year, I put out a call for our readers' favorite East End restaurants, to help me explore the eastern stretches of our city. One commenter, Oramosvt, quietly responded: "El Petate, best pupusas in Houston." The comment got two "likes." That was good enough for me.

I finally made it out to El Petate a few weeks ago and was indeed confronted with some of the better pupusas I've had in Houston. The thick corn masa discs only come with three choices of fillings here — queso, chicharrón (pork skin) or revueltos (a mixture of beef, beans and cheese); no loroco (squash blossom) here, sadly — but they're made to order, hot and thick and tinged with a lovely char around the edges.

The simple queso pupusas are my favorite, filled with that rough, salty Salvadoran cheese that only barely melts despite the pupusa's turn across a screaming hot griddle. The cheese is an ideal offset to the toothsome chew of the soft masa, all of it brought together with a few spoonfuls from the giant glass jar of curtido that's delivered to your table.

The family-style glass jars are also brought out with a plastic-wrapped spoon (please don't use your own utensils; other people have to eat out of that curtido jar, too) that you'll use to heft out scoops of cabbage and carrots, shredded and immersed in a slightly spicy vinegar base that brings a bright and welcome crunch to the soft pupusas.

I like to get the pupusas on one of El Petate's clever combo platters; there are four to choose from, each priced at $8. Plato No. 1 comes with your choice of Salvadoran tamale, made with satiny masa and wrapped in a banana leaf, as well as two pupusas of your choosing and a plate of fried plantains, dark brown refried beans and tangy white crema. Plato No. 4 replaces the fried plantains with something more appropriate for dessert (which is why it's my favorite plate): empanadas.

Salvadoran empanadas are entirely different from the Mexican pumpkin-filled pastries we pick up at El Bolillo or the Argentinean beef-stuffed pockets from Manena's. Salvadoran empanadas are essentially sugar-encrusted plantains filled to bursting with sweet cream, served warm and almost indecently gooey. And they make one of the finest and most unexpected desserts in town.

Salvadoran cuisine uses its native ingredients like plantains and yuca to great effect, showcasing them in far more interesting applications than just fried or sliced into chips. One of those applications is the chilate y nuegados mentioned above.

I know now that chilate is not my favorite thing in the world. In fact, I'd rather have the nuegados on their own and forgo the milky bowl of chilate that comes with them. But it's tradition to eat the two together — and El Petate is the place to do it. Nuegados are crispy, chewy fritters made from mashed yuca, which has an almost briny taste to it when made this way. The fritters themselves aren't sweet — they're entirely savory — but the dark, thick, molasses-like syrup served on top of them is. It reminds me, in a way, of Salvadoran-style French toast. And if the nuegados are French toast, chilate is the coffee you drink alongside it.

Chilate is made from toasted corn, ginger and peppercorns, a watery mixture that's unappealing on its own merits but tasty when drunk or spooned up alongside the savory-sweet nuegado fritters. I prefer the other accompaniment that comes with the nuegados, however: candied plantains in a slightly lighter version of the nuegado syrup.

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Katherine, glad you found the suggestion to be a success. Been going there since i was a kid and have taken a few different groups of friends there, and they all end up wanting to go back. Don't think there will be a pupusa eruption across the foodie world anytime soon, but have a hard time seeing how anyone could outright say they don't like pupusas. Now hopefully you'll hit up Tel Wink for breakfast sometime and enjoy the best diner breakfast around.


Interesting review, as usual. I have lived in the East End since 1953 (I'm 61) and the ethnic mix is only getting more and more diverse. This is the neighborhood where fajitas have their modern origin (Ninfa's) and the only neighborhood where there is (or was) a Chinese menu for the orientals and a different one for non-orientals. (Jin Bo on Lawndale) My wife and I walked in there one evening not aware that it was the Chinese New Year and the place was packed with gamblers! How fun was that!!??? Anyway, Please keep discovering for us, Katherine. My sister visits from northeast TX often and we generally visit places that you point out. No regrets! Really enjoyed Los Corrales.

Lorena Ventura
Lorena Ventura

Ummmm.....que rico! I've been craving nuegados & chilate for the longest time! I can't wait to try El Petate. Gracias Katharine for sharing!