I'm definitely going against the flow of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, driving west, away from the city, with the goal of finding great, cheap ethnic cuisine in the 'burbs. You see, due to the lack of foot traffic from tourists, urban dwellers and downtown workers, suburban restaurants must focus on satisfying the audience that already calls Beaverton home—and that includes plenty of immigrants. The distance might be a drag, but you'll be rewarded with a level of authenticity that only separation from the city can provide.
On the western edge of Beaverton lies year-old Sabor Salvadoreño. I don't speak Spanish, and yet I'm always strangely compelled by the telenovelas (soap operas) playing on the TV of this brightly lit, soccer jersey-lined diner. It serves some Mexican standards like tacos and burritos and shrimp soup, but they're all relegated to the back page of the menu for good reason. El Salvador's location farther south of Mexico creates some interesting riffs on the usual Latin favorites, including tamales con pollo ($2)—Salvadoreño's are wrapped in a banana leaf rather than corn husk. The leaf helps retain moisture as it steams, giving the tamale a much more luscious flavor. This same amount of care can be found in the restaurant's pan relleno ($4), a big Salvadoran sandwich stuffed with roast pork and served in a hoagielike roll that boasts the buttery flakiness of a croissant. But the signature items of Salvadoran cuisine are the pupusas ($2), a thick corn disc of masa that's stuffed with all sorts of goodness and then pan-fried. The best fillings here at Sabor Salvadoreño are the revueltas (pork, cheese and beans) and also the queso con loroco, which combines cheese with an edible Central American vine flower to create something like a small, fluffy veggie quesadilla. Now, back to my telenovela. ...
COUNTRY KOREAN RESTAURANT
OK, the entire menu here is in Korean, and the staff can communicate only in broken English. But Country Korean is proud of its food, and the servers are eager to provide suggestions for a great meal. They seem to have a special fondness for the non-Korean friends I bring there. It's mutual: My buddies have nicknamed the joint "Country Cougar" in honor of the kinda hot older Korean women who work there. Me? I'm just there for the food, which is unique among Portland-area Korean restaurants, focusing on anju, or Korean drinking food. The dishes, served on large, family-style platters, are salty and spicy, and pair well with a Korean beer like Hite (rhymes with "kite"). Start with a simple soup, duk mandu guk ($7.95)—a velvety broth swimming with dumplings and sliced rice cakes. It's a soothing respite from the heat soon to come. Do order a platter of sliced meat like jokbal ($19.95). Think of it as a simmered country ham served with a spicy seafood dipping sauce. At this point, you'll probably notice your table is inundated with banchan, the various mini side dishes that are common to Korean cuisine, from kimchi to dried squid and even potato salad. Feel free to mix and match, as they're meant to offer a variety of spice, texture, saltiness and acidity to any dish. And you've gotta get something stir-fried, like the familiar marinated bulgogi beef ($10.95) or, my favorite, the soondae bokkeum ($9.95), which stir-fries the Korean version of boudin noir blood sausage with veggies and chile sauce. The prices here might seem a tad high, but when the huge platters come out, you'll see that each dish is meant to serve three or four people. Combine that with the side dishes and you'll roll out of Country Korean with your belly filled and your tongue seared from chiles, simply glad that you made the trip.
Sabor Salvadoreño, 3460 SW 185th Ave., Beaverton, 356-2376. $ Inexpensive. Country Korean Restaurant, 4130 SW 117th St., Suite J, Beaverton, 626-0324. $-$$ Inexpensive-Moderate.