On the almost-Sunnyvale side of El Camino Real in Mountain View, find a festival of cheap, plentiful Salvadoran and Mexico City street foods, made fresh to order. There are burritos, but Chalateco is more taco truck than Cal-Mex. Check out the meats, including sesos (beef brains), costillo (beef rib meat), suadero (beef, it says) and chuleta (pork chop).
Another way Chalateco stands alone: You don't pay until after you get the food. There is a certain trust built into the operation.
The type on the takeout menu is so small you may need reading glasses even if you don't normally wear them. The in-house menu, in contrast, offers giant, spiral-bound laminated pages with photographs of food items, described in Spanish and English. It's still confusing. I look forward to figuring out my favorites and not having to navigate either menu.
That could take a while. We made a valiant attempt, but barely dented the cornucopia.
Salvadoran tamales ($1.99) are meltingly creamy. Yuca con chicharron — potato-like cassava with fried pork ($5.99) — is fabulously crunchy.
If you like spice, chile verde is a feast of tender pork or chicken meat in a rich tomatillo sauce. If not, it may be too hot.
Sopes ($4.75 with meat, $3.25 without) sort of split the difference between taco and pupusa in thickness, the masa formed with pinched sides — the better to support a small village of meat, refried beans, salsa, iceberg lettuce and sour cream.
Cocktail-size tacos ($1.85 each) involve two soft corn tortillas and a hefty pile of chopped meat topped with cilantro, onions and salsa.
The mixed ceviche tostada ($4.75) wisely came in two parts: the marinated fish, shrimp and octopus, topped with slices of creamy avocado, and the crisp flat tortilla.
If you're getting takeout, make sure you get what you ordered. On one visit we were shorted two pupusas ($1.99 each) but got plenty of curtido, the spicy fermented coleslaw and hot sauce you eat with them. The second time was the charm. These griddled cornmeal pockets, patted into shape minutes earlier, are just greasy enough. Their midsections are combinations of meats, beans, cheese and plants, simmered into paste. The queso con loroco (a Salvadoran herb), and revueltas (beans, pork and cheese) pupusas are standard-setters.
Alambres ($7.75) are like cheese steaks — chopped meat grilled with peppers and cheese — wrapped in soft corn tortillas. Lengua, beef tongue, makes especially wonderful alambres.
Where Chalateco does use bread, in the tortas and pambrazos, it's a gigantic, puffy, bland roll. But I can't say enough about the chicken torta and chorizo pambrazo fillings.
Breakfast items include huevos rancheros ($6.99), eggs your way with meat ($6.99), and breakfast burritos. And the Salvadoran breakfast: plantains, eggs, beans and sour cream ($7.75). Among the other items we didn't try: chilaquiles, green salad, fajitas, soups, stews, oysters, grilled fish, deep-fried tilapia, steak with grilled onions and a low-carb Plato de Dieto. On weekends Chalateco serves up barbacoa and consomme.
Chalateco refers to a person from Chalatenango, a Salvadoran municipality that suffered greatly in El Salvador's 12 years of civil war, which ended in 1992.
Mountain View's Chalateco is the newest of seven. San Jose has four, Milpitas one and Alameda one. The two TV sets seem always to be on LOUD. That and the bright stripes of yellow, orange and brown paint may make takeout more appealing.
825 E. El Camino Real,
Hours: 9 a.m.- 11 p.m. daily