A decade ago, people in the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff could say, “Ooh, I’m really craving a pupusa right now” and not get slapped.
That’s because a restaurateur named Gloria Fuentes had opened a small space and, in the process, educated people to the tropical glories of the Central American country of El Salvador. She jokingly called her hybrid “Salva-Tex,” though upscale Tex-Mex with authentic Salvadoran specialties is a less pithy but more accurate description.
After years of multiple locations around the North Central Texas area that boasted long weekend-night waiting lists, Fuentes finally brings her multi-hyphenate chow to Fort Worth. What better place for a debut that will become a destination eating spot for many than the spiffy new Montgomery Plaza? And true to form, she has transferred the many victories and occasional pitfalls of Gloria’s as experienced east of I-35.
Let’s start with the refried black beans. They’re both the glory and the curse of a Gloria’s plate. Before you even order, they have already been served alongside chips and the restaurant’s mediocre salsa. Then they return as generously as a mudslide with the entrée, almost threatening to roll over it. For people who get their kicks from what food specialists call “mouth feel,” these rich, largely unseasoned frijoles negros are as soothing as a lover’s embrace. But three or four consecutive forkfuls have almost filled you up before anything else is touched. While the temptation is to dive in, it’s best to consume the beans sparingly throughout the meal unless you want to risk death by legume.
Whether as a main dish or an appetizer, the ceviche tostada scores high. A mound of citrusy shredded white fish, shrimp, and chopped onions is laid on a guacamole-smeared corn tortilla that is solid enough to carry the burden but still tender to the bite.
Because El Salvador is a mostly poor country located at the center of the continent, they make the widest possible use of their own native ingredients in lieu of importing food. And so on the sampler platter known as a Gloria’s Super Special, you’ll find yummy pieces of fried plantain, the tropical banana that’s extremely starchy with a low, teasing, sugary aftertaste; delicately greasy stalks of yuca, a root that is seasoned and fried here until it tastes like potato; and the Salvadoran version of the tamale, which is steamed in banana leaves until the masa achieves an almost creamy consistency. Gloria’s tamales are superb, stuffed with white-meat chicken, tomato pieces, and potato chunks.
The lechon asado is a medium-thick slab of pork tenderloin marinated until a knife becomes unnecessary — the fork alone makes the cut. For those who love a hot-pepper jolt, the brownish-red pool of ancho chile sauce underneath the pork is a little tepid, a bit too close to a bottled Texas barbecue sauce. Still, the comfort factor is as high at the Fort Worth Gloria’s as it is everywhere she sets up camp. An easy prediction: Fort dwellers will respond enthusiastically to her culinary caresses.