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El Cuscatleco v. El Cuscatleco II

Posted by GNR 13 Nov 2008 11 Comments

A Margarita Night Face-off

I decided to check out the new El Cuscatleco II way up north on 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 locations.

Point 1:  Location

El Cuscatleco is located in a stand-alone, charmingly run-down structure.  The space inside manages to be cozy without being cramped, and lots of natural light comes in through the windows.

II is in a strip mall.  The decor is very bright, new, and cheerful, with lots of murals and Latin American paraphernalia hanging on the walls.  The atmosphere is hard to describe, but it reminds me of what is called a “family restaurant” in the Midwest…lots of neutral colors and comfortable booths.


Decor at El Cuscatleco II

Point II:  Staff

At El Cuscatleco, the staff tends not to speak very good English.  In fact, they have always identified the one Spanish-speaking member of my party and spoken to that person.  I’d generally describe the service there as courteous and a little shy.

At II, the staff was extremely attentive and cordial, and they definitely spoke English.

Point III:  The Clientele

Usually, the only language I hear other customers at El Cuscatleco speaking is Spanish.  This is more noticable at El Cuscatleco because the tables are a little closer together, creating a more intimate feeling with just about everyone else in the restaurant.

The crowd at II spoke English almost exclusively.  We even heard someone at another table beckon the waiter over to ask what some random Spanish phrase meant.  That was kind of weird.

Point IV:  Margarita Night

The margaritas at El Cuscatleco are $1.50.  Yes, I said ONE DOLLAR AND FIFTY CENTS on Mondays.  They are kind of small, but that is no problem because it’s more fun to have two and it still only costs you $3.



Natural light and margaritas at El Cuscatleco


Jumbo margarita at II

The Monday margaritas at II are $2.50 and considerably larger.  We could not figure out whether they were weaker, though we decided that they probably were not when we got up to leave.  The waiter urged us to continue ordering more, correctly noting what an awesome deal it was.

Point V:  The Food

El Cuscatleco has fantastic food.  I’ve loved everything I have eaten there.  In particular, they do a great job with Central American standbys like eggs and steak with fried plaintains.


Steak and eggs…and a yummy shrimp dish in the background.  Steamy-hot, thick corn tortillas accompanied all these dishes.


Eggs, beans, and plaintains

I only tried two things at II, a shrimp/scallop/snapper dish in a garlic-bell pepper sauce and carne guizada, a beef stew.  So far, El Cuscatleco is the clear standout.  The seafood dish at II was a little bland, especially the scallops.  The meat in the stew was somewhat tough, but the flavor was good.

I have hinted at this a little, but I got the feeling that II is a bit gringoized.  There is a children’s menu including chicken fingers, and they offer fried ice cream, for example.  However, all doubt I had about gringoization was removed when our waiter brought us flour tortillas without asking whether we might prefer corn.  It seems that these are not normally even on hand; when I asked for corn tortillas, he (very kindly) ran off to the kitchen and had the cook make us some.  He returned a few minutes later with 2 very fresh, hot, and delicious corn tortillas.  These were very clearly handmade, and were thick, just as I’d expect from a Central American chef.  We agreed that they might be the best part of the meal.  Mmm…


Seafood dish at II


Carne guizada

And the winner is…

My personal preference is for El Cuscatleco.  However, II is still new, I only tried two dishes, and it would be hard to beat El Cuscatleco the First on the food front.  II also gets lots of points for the large margaritas and the staff’s obvious efforts to make customers happy.


  • Phil said:

    Thanks for this great post. By coincidence, I was just trying to describe EC to a friend, and now I can point him to this blog.

    I wonder if EC-II will feature the mariachis that come weekly to EC-I. EC-I is a “cozy” restaurant under any circumstances. With the five-or-six member mariachi band, it acquires the feeling of a happily crowded chicken bus.


  • Steve said:

    II also has been advertising (via those flimsy little plasticky roadside signs) “kids eat free” on certain days, I think M-W or M-Th. That’s probably going to get us in the door soon.


  • Britt B. said:

    II used to be my favorite italian joint Camille’s, at least the murals are still there. Before that it was the former home of Triangle Tropical Fish, and no it wasn’t a sushi place :)


  • GNR said:

    That’s funny; I thought that the scenes in the murals looked oddly Tuscan.


  • TSQ75 said:

    good lord the eggs and plantains look amazing! how early does I open on the weekends, i wonder…


  • Beth1 said:

    Great review of both restaurants, GNR. Thanks!


  • GP said:

    Love the reviews! I’ve been wondering… What kind of camera are you using to take your photos? It does a great job in difficult indoor lighting. If you’re using multiple cameras: what is your favorite? what did you use for the ECII post? Maybe you could do a post about shooting food? Thanks for all you do!


  • GNR (author) said:

    I have a Canon PowerShot A520, and that is what we used to take the photos in this post. As far as photographing food, my usual method is to use natural light if possible, no flash, and I attempt to create a nice composition. My boyfriend, who took most of these pictures, says that he also zooms out as far as possible.


  • YAR said:

    Apparently using the Macro setting helps too. DNR uses a Canon SD750.


  • GP said:

    Nice! Thanks for the tips on the camera. I’m actually back in the market for one since I lost mine. I’m glad to see that a moderately priced (but tech ladened) point-and-shoot does the job.


  • Emily said:

    My husband and I had never eaten bad Latin American food until we ate at el Cuscatleco II. It was horrible. We had a groupon for this place, so we thought we would check it out. I wanted to try Salvadorian food as I had never had it before. I ordered the “plato tipico” which was recommended by the waitress. My husband stuck with a safer option, the Chimichanga. My puposa could have been good as the center – pork and cheese – was good, but it was burnt. (And we were the only people eating in the restaurant at that time around 7 on a Friday night). The yuca fries were ok but bland. The platanos were overcooked and dry. (Nothing like the ones I enjoy at Carmens or Mami Noras). The pastelito tasted like a brick and was also overcooked. The tamal was horrible! It was soggy and reminded me of a wet diaper. My husband’s chimichanga was ok, but he was served brown guacamole on top of it. Normally, I am the type to complain when I am not happy with the food, but honestly, I was so turned off by what I had that I could not imagine eating anything else. My hope is that the normal chef was on vacation and the food there is not always so bad. My advice, if you see brown guacamole and a black puposa, run!


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