Hidden Salvadoran and Mexican food at a grocery

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by Eric Ginsburg

For Winston-Salem’s Latino communities, Compare Foods seems to have all the trappings of home.

The store, in a shopping center off Silas Creek Parkway in southern Winston-Salem, is as far from a Food Lion or Harris Teeter as possible, but just as large. It’s obvious to anyone who steps inside, where shoppers enter through a phone store and walk past a jewelry counter with gold accessories to reach the produce.

Many, though certainly not all of the signs are in Spanish, as are many of the products. A buffet of dried peppers stands near a trove of produce that can’t be found in most groceries, including green mangos, a plethora of squashes and a number of things I couldn’t even identify.

But the most intriguing part of this Latin American food hub is the panaderia, or bakery, in the back along with the small restaurant of sorts serving tacos, tamales and other fare, primarily Mexican.

There’s no name on the taquería at the back right corner of Compare Foods, just a large, red neon sign that says “Tortillas calientes 100%” hanging over the register. Several small tables, pushed together and capable of seating 10 people, provide a place to dine in, but even at the off hour of 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday, only one chair remained vacant.

The line of people ordering meals to go, bags of fresh tortillas or trays full of bread ebbed and flowed in rolling waves, occasionally almost a dozen deep but always moving quickly.

DSC04310Ever seen the conveyor belt at Krispy Kreme where the doughnuts roll out, appearing in a neverending procession of golden goodness? The action behind the counter here is similarly transfixing, as rows of tortillas emerge several at a time to be picked up and packaged in short stacks for sale.

A command of Spanish isn’t necessary to order at the counter, but it certainly helps. Practically everyone spoke Spanish on a recent afternoon, though a few black customers who only spoke English were still able to communicate their orders with a little patience.

For those ordering a meal, which runs just over $5, the pupusas are the way to go. Pupusas are like the soul food of El Salvador — heavy, filling comfort food that look like small pancakes. The morsels are filled with either cheese or chicharrones (pork) and cheese, coming in an order of four with a pile of cool cabbage as a topping and a tomato-ey salsa.

Ask for an order of pupusas revueltas, meaning with ground pork and cheese. Take them to go, both because there likely won’t be seats and because they come out very hot here and the trip will give them a chance to let off some steam.

There are a number of other options at the taquería too, but the pupusas came highly recommended and I wasn’t led astray. The chicken torta, a sandwich served with a little too much onion and arriving slightly soggy, is still good but not as satisfying. On the upside, the chunks of white cheese inside make it more authentic than many other tortas in the Triad, and they’re served somewhat spicy which is a nice touch.

Compare Foods isn’t the only place to buy fresh pupusas in Winston-Salem — there’s el Triunfo off University Drive and North Point Boulevard to the northwest, and options in south Winston-Salem, too. These stack up well against the competition, and the food in general is better than some of the other Mexican options in the immediate vicinity.

Be prepared to wait for a bit if ordering a meal, though the pupusas are worth it and tortillas wrapped moments earlier are ready to grab and go.

Compare Foods is located in the Parkway Plaza Shopping Center at 951 Silas Creek Parkway, (W-S). Visit comparesupermarkets.com/951-silas-creek-pkwy for more information.