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El Cuscatleco (or EL CAT, as we say)

Posted by hollyandholley 29 May 2008 11 Comments

El Cuscatleco  — Salvadorean and Mexican Food

4212 Garrett Road 

Sun-Thur  11am-9:30pm, Fri/Sat  11am-10:30pm

Don’t be fooled if you drive up at night and it looks dark inside.  It is–but the place is hopping.  Located in a former convenience store, this place lacks ambience, blares Mexican music, has a Mariachi guitarist strolling through the restaurant, and has two televisions tuned to different stations with the volume on.  One featured a Spanish-speaking soap opera, the other some movie with Alec Baldwin and a grizzly bear.  The staff is friendly, the menu extensive, the beer really cold and served with a frosty glass.

The ceviche was served on a platter, chock full of seafood and avocado, very fresh, not spicy but flavorful.  Mi papi devoured the camarones acajutla, a Salvadorean dish which features shrimp and tomatoes in a spicy chipotle and lime sauce served with thick corn tortillas.  Mi hijo loved the crispy taquitos fritos which came in shredded beef and shredded chicken, served with fresh guacomole and sour cream, beans and rice.  My rice and beans were good but unremarkable.  The chips and salsa made up for it–thick, crunchy chips with a slightly spicy thick salsa.

The food was more authentic than most Americanized Mexican places in Durham.  El Cat is a good place for sit down dining, but for yummy Mexican takeout we still love The Cow Store best.  We will try it again–especially for the ceviche.


  • Phil said:

    Don’t forget to mention that the portions are often bigger than your head!

    Their plato tipico is a great bet for folks who have never tried Salvadoran food. If I recall correctly, the sampler includes some yucca and a pupusa with the great fresh “slaw” (jicama-based, I think?).

    Their tripe soup is huge and rich and quite the thing if you’re into that kind of thing.


  • Sofers said:

    I am very glad that you are excited about the food, as it is close to the cuisine of my country. The food is in fact great, the portions good, and the prices low. Its one of my favorite places in Durham.
    However, I must say that I am a bit bothered by the need to shorten the name to something completely unrelated and irrelevant to the culture of the restaurant. It seems that we should be encouraging people to not only go to these restaurants, therby supporting local businesses and trying out new cuisines, but that we should also encourage them to approach the experience in a manner that is all accepting and respectful of the restaurant’s culture. I understand that the name may be difficult to pronounce to many folks, but its pronounced just as its spelled Cus-cat-le-co.

    Please understand, I am not trying to be rude. Just voicing out my concern. Again, I am very glad that this restaurant was featured on the blog. Keep up the good work!


  • Carpe Durham/Reasonably Prudent Person said:

    I ate here a couple of weeks ago and thought it was decent. I think you can get better versions of the individual components in the plato tipico at other places in town, but this is the only place I know of that puts them all together.

    My friend recently taught me the magic combo though — mix the beans and the plantains together while eating them. Awesome.


  • chonblanco said:

    I have to second the comment by Sofers.
    Cultural tourism is a dangerous thing, as it often lends toward lumping distinct regions and countries together. While El Cuscatleco is not the place to go for a subtle environment, I have to wonder if the music was in fact Mexican. Was it duranguense? or was it bachata? One of those styles originates in the Dominican Republic. Mariachi is Mexican, and they have live mariachi usually twice a week, as posted.
    And why would you lump it with Americanized Mexican? As if the Mexican dishes somehow usurp all of the Salvadorean items.
    This sort of thing infuriates me.
    And I’m guessing your cow store is, in fact, La Vaquita. It is a great Mexican joint.
    If it is your hijos that insist on the ridiculous names, please correct them. Otherwise, please be more careful and show these people more respect.


  • carpedurham said:

    “Cuscatleco” is really, really fun to say. I go out of my way to say it. I just said it to myself in my office.


  • Carpe Durham/Reasonably Prudent Person said:

    Sofers & chonblanco,

    Thank you for your feedback. Without speaking for her, I think we can safely assume that H&H meant no disrespect. It should be quite obvious to anyone who reads this blog that we all have tremendous respect for the people that serve up the wonderful food that we spend hours a week obsessing about.

    That being said, and with all due respect, I did not find the post offensive in the least bit. Everyone calls La Vaquita “the cow place,” and restaurant names are shortened all the time in every day speech. Just because the restaurant happens to serve ethnic food does not mean that all of a sudden it is inappropriate to do so.

    I am also not sure I understand the concern about the comparison to Americanized Mexican food — she was clearly comparing the Mexican dishes she had. I don’t think the Salvadorean items were “usurped” as much as there just isn’t anything comparable in the area.


  • kdghty said:

    we give nicknames to things were fond of – including restaurants. quickly off the top of my head – Bats, Sats, even MickyD’s.


  • hollyandholley said:

    Gentle Readers,
    Durham has been my beloved home for twenty odd years. I am delighted to see Carpe Durham shine its light on all the little nooks and crannies of this fair town. Those locally owned food places that depend on word-of-mouth advertising, the restaurant with a hand-lettered sign in the window, the ones where ‘the regulars’ are happy to tell you the best item on the menu…the writers at Carpe Durham seek and find these jewels in Durham’s crown. H&H means no disrespect to others, but will absolutely admit to possessing an irreverent sense of humor and writing style. Did a review make you comment, make your mouth water, make you laugh out loud? Good! That means you took the time to read it and we thank you. Now pick a place and go out to eat. In Durham, of course. Enjoy!
    –one half of H&H


  • Sarah’s Empanadas, boiling plantains since 1988 (and a reminder) « Carpe Durham said:

    [...] fact, holy. The yucca frita con chicharron is out of this world, and if you’ve only had it at El Cuscatleco you’re really in for something (and notice the 100.0 sanitation [...]

  • El Palenque « Carpe Durham said:

    [...] pillowy.  The pupusas were also amazing–better, in my opinion, than the ones at the nearby El Cuscatleco (though I like the plaintains better at El [...]

  • El Cuscatleco v. El Cuscatleco II « Carpe Durham said:

    [...] Roxboro (5110 N. Roxboro St.).  I am a big fan of El Cuscatleco, reviewed by our summer posters, here, and especially their Monday margarita special.  This is a point-by-point comparison of the two [...]

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