“Yolanda Pineda loves our pupusas,” said Cabañas’ co-owner Fredy Garcia. That’s high praise from the very Salvadorean and very experienced proprietor of Mariachi in downtown Rehoboth. If she ventures out of her busy, 2-story restaurant complex onto Coastal Highway for Fredy’s pupusas, then they’ve got to be good. Like all good restaurant owners and cooks, Yolanda appreciates authentic ethnic food that she doesn’t have to make and that she doesn’t have to serve. Garcia, his partner Joaquin Cortez and their family stuff the little corn tortillas with cheese, or a mixture of beans, cheese and pork. They also offer a filling of loroco; flower buds served fresh or pickled – a regional delicacy in El Salvador. An authentic curtado (slaw) accompanies the appetizer dish. Cabañas’ version is chunky and mild with a tasty red sauce, while Yolanda’s is more thinly sliced, tart and spicy with thin-as-air jalapeno slices.
This is not Fredy Garcia’s first rodeo here in Rehoboth Beach. Before he could even speak a word of English (you’d never know it now), he was working in the kitchen at Fusion on Wilmington Avenue. About 15 years ago, he needed more work hours, and longtime Rehoboth restaurateur Jon Orlando needed more reliable help at Just in Thyme on the Forgotten Mile. It was the perfect match. But that was 15 years ago, and this is now: It was time for Fredy to venture out on his own. So he decided to bring the food of Cabañas (his homeland in the north of El Salvador), to Delaware. He says that his friends in California (he has a degree in international studies from UCLA, by the way) still ask him what state Delaware is in. Oh well. We’ll choose to find that charming.
This is NOT fine dining. It is a rectangular, fluorescently lit and antiseptically clean space with TVs on the wall. Behind the counter is a bilingual menu. Members of the Garcia and Cortez families toil quietly in the kitchen. And everything is made fresh to order and served with plastic forks. Obviously you do not go to Cabañas for the atmosphere or the flatware. But you do go there for the food.
Do not miss the tamales. They are steamed in wide, deeply green banana leaves. The masa shell is creamy and softly spiced, while the shredded chicken filling is light and tender. Other appetizers include those pupusas, tacos and Yuca Frita (fried yucca – think french fries, but better). All are very reasonably priced at around $2, except for the generous helping of yucca fries which is $6.99.
On my last visit I had the Burrito de Camaron. Tender shrimp are rolled into a burrito with rice, frijoles refritos and a bright, fresh salsa that brings a satisfyingly chunky crunch to this overstuffed monster of a burrito. This one will fill you up. We also tried the Albondigas (meatballs). The spiced beef is some of the best I have ever had, accompanied by a deliciously creamy arroz (rice), a slaw-like salad and warm tortilla pancakes. I’ve got to talk to Fredy about making these little orbs portable by rolling them up into a burrito. Yum.
Pupusa1/10 empanadas2/10 Albondigas3/10 Nuegados4/10 Shrimp burrito5/10 The tamale, still in its cozy wrapper6/10 The tamale, after hatching.7/10 Sopa de Pollo w/zanahorio, chayote, papa, repello, aguacote, ejote y tortillas8/10 Combo platter9/10 atole de pina10/10
Another must-get is the Chili Rellenos with beef. Another generous portion for a fair price, this one sports that tasty rice with a side salad and warm tortillas. Not sure what to get? No problem. The Combo plate offers a pupusa, a tamale, plantain, avocado and refried beans. Go the extra mile and get the Plato Mixto with beef, chicken, sausage, rice and a side salad. That should set you free.
So far we have enjoyed the nuegados and the empañadas for dessert. Both are quite good (take a look at them in the photo gallery). The empanadas are the perfect 2 bites and slightly crunchy with coarse sugar. They are filled with plantain and a vanilla rice pudding. And there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that. Then there are the Nuegados. At the risk of falling into my hyperbolic habits, these things are crazy good! They sit there innocently, looking rather plain and brown. Then you take a bite, and everything is right with the world: The outside, made from fried yucca root, is firmly crispy. The inside is warm, yielding a creamy combination of cinnamon, vanilla and masa called atole. I don’t think the delicate crunch would survive carryout, so eat them there. You will not be disappointed.
Cabañas serves breakfast too, with two very Salvadorean offerings, Desayuno Salvadoreño (2 eggs, beans, avocado and plantain) and Huevos con Chorizo. If you are reading this, then you know what that is. It’s plated up with frijoles refritos and tortillas. There are 11 lunch and dinner offerings on the menu, a big salad (with chicken or shrimp) and a long list of drinks. Fredy tells me he is coming up with more specials, etc. After all, as of this writing (early March ’16) they have only been open for a couple of weeks. There is still a bit of decorating to do and maybe a little messing around with the lighting (oh, please make the fluorescents go away), but the food and the friendly atmosphere trump the still-austere surroundings. Fredy and Joaquin are brothers in law, and everyone who works there is family.
Hours are 8a – 9p, 7 days (!). They also offer carryout (302-313-4398). Plug this into your nav system: 18388 Coastal Highway, Lewes, 19958. No nav system? Just look for Bethany Blues across the street, or Alyson Blyth’s Go Brit! right there in the little strip center. Life is short: Start with the Nuegados.