El Guanaco in Overland offers authentic Central American cuisine made from scratch
A growing number of Latin American restaurants in St. Louis offer authentic and varied aspects of South and Central American foods. El Guanaco Taqueria and Pupuseria (10633 pages) is one of the leaders of this trend.
The restaurant, which opened in May 2020 just after the pandemic began, has remained under the radar, located next to a check cashing storefront on Page in Overland. Football is on the televisions and Modelo bottles are on the table. Don’t bother asking for the wine list.
There are Mexican dishes, scrappy tacos, burritos, and more. Instead, focus on offerings from Honduras and El Salvador. There’s enough that you can forget about even getting a sample in one visit. There are at least a dozen dishes here that we haven’t seen in any other local restaurant.
That said, we could dine here many times and never tire of one meal and its variations: these wonderful pupae. If you ate Mexican Gorditas you are close. These are large slices cooked massa with toppings, everything from beans to cheese to loroco (a plant whose buds look like tiny bean pods and taste like fresh asparagus.) Pupuses have a softness and an incomparable aroma of fragrant corn. Don’t miss the variation loaded with ground pork chiccharon. Next to it are piles of curtido—lightly marinated shredded cabbage.
Another side are cebollas incurditas, pickled onions to a deep beet blush, with lime juice that has a serious kick. They decorate several plates, including carne asada con tajadas. Tajadas are fried, sliced plantains with a starchy chewy interior and a pleasantly chewy exterior; the carne asada is, in this case, marinated skirt steak, another player in the dish meant to go with those pickled plantains and onions.
Walks are like Honduran calzones. Handmade flour tortillas are folded into half moons, filled with everything from the pantry: scrambled eggs, shredded beef, kidney beans, sour cream and cheese. If you manage to finish one on your own, El Guanaco may throw a party in your honor.
El Guanaco empanadas are like pizza. Each country, each region has its own variation of empanadas. In El Salvador, they’re not even called empanadas—they’re pastelitos (see main picture), the size of a large grapefruit wedge, crispy rather than mushy like, say, an Argentinian empanada, and they’re puffed up with finely shredded chicken and drizzled with a garlic cream. They make a great entrance.
It’s hard to stand out here, but if you want to look like Mr. Cool Connoisseur and enjoy a spectacular meal, try the fried fish with tajadas. If you were impressed by the fantastic seafood platters at Mariscos El Gato, the fried whole fish at El Guanaco is in the same extravagant style. A red snapper sits on a bed of fried plantains and pico de gallo, with a tangy dip of habanero peppers and lime that balances the sweet and spicy with the garlic. The fish, from crispy crust to tender flesh, is exquisite.
When it comes to sides, you know how rice and beans in a Latin American style restaurant are often just a kind of side dish? In El Guanaco, however, the pair are fiery additions. The grains are as dark as chocolate, creamy yet firm enough to make for a smooth, succulent bite. The rice is touched with a hint of garlic; instead of overwhelming the dish, the garlic and chicken broth seduces, with each grain separated, sprinkled with cilantro.
the Horchata is well above average, the scent of almonds is intoxicating. How something best described as ground chalk mixed with almonds in water could be so delicious is one of life’s mysteries, but horchata is simply wonderful. Speaking of mysteries, consider trying the Michelada, beer with lime, tomato juice and chili spices served in a chilled glass with a salty rim.
Like we said, El Guanaco isn’t fancy, but it’s worth adding to your list of regular restaurants.