A VISIT TO THE SALVADOREAN Bakery was a definite boon for a friend and I one recent Saturday, unbelievably early. You see, sometimes when people are very tense because a large rat is found under the rental house, and the exterminator from Fife smiles salaciously before proffering an unappealing sexual proposition over his donut, and the kitchen floor is covered with peanut-butter-smeared rat traps, and all this happens before 9:00 a.m., people are grumpy and have nowhere to eat.

All this, in fact, happened to my friend. When I arrived at her house at 8:30 a.m., the rat traps were set and the exterminator was waving goodbye; but to hear her tell it, the rat was still an omnivorous threat, big as a Labrador retriever, ready to lunge into her closet and chew her shoes into a moist pulp. She had to get out for a while.

Within minutes we were scudding across the West Seattle Bridge, forgetting the rat, happily flipping off the fat-ass SUVs, the summer sky above us perhaps as hungry as we were, empty and blue. The Salvadorean Bakery is open quite early every day. We were lucky to find the coffee fresh and hot, and the pastry cases heaped with a beautiful, dreamy cornucopia of South American goodies, including guava turnovers (with cream cheese), jalapeño rolls, Salvadorean éclairs, and relámpagos (eggy, multilayered pastry puffs filled with fluffy, not-too-sweet Salvadorean custard). Other pastry mainstays include rice cookies, very crisp and dense and excellent for coffee-dipping; orejas (sweet, crisp puff pastry, roughly in the shape of ears); and little cookies with anise seeds in the shape of pigs.

The place was packed with pastry-eaters--my kind of people. The counter service was friendly and helpful, too. We wound up staying for hours, waiting until lunch was ready, and checking out the minutia of herbs, Salvadorean chocolate, frozen tamales, toys, countless types of long-distance cards, and other items for sale behind the counter; we swatted at bright horse- and llama-shaped piñatas hanging from the ceiling. Along with the 30 varieties of pastries we counted, the Salvadorean Bakery offers real breakfasts: beans and eggs with sour cream and tortillas in varying combinations ($5.50-$5.95). These are not flat, Mexican-style tortillas but small, blond, round pads of dough about as thick as your finger, made with a tang of lime, their centers a slightly doughy perfection. The rest of the menu offers various choices of pupusas (two for $3)--small, stuffed rice-flour patties that appear to be grilled, though the pert counter boy assured me that they are baked like tiny pizzas. The pupusas are mostly vegetarian, with varieties such as zucchini and cheese, cheese and loroco (edible, south-of-the-border flowers), or cheese and beans.

But it's the Salvadorean Bakery's tamales ($1.75 each) that are verifiably dreamy. They're plump, oblong shapes of steamy, buttery masa, as light and fluffy as I've ever tasted, filled with chicken, pork, or elote--a purée of sweet corn topped with sour cream. All this is steamed inside a banana leaf, which, by the time the platter is served, has already opened like a shy blossom. Both tamales and pupusas are served with a spicy cabbage salad, finely chopped and piquant with tiny flecks of red pepper.

The cafe's unusual Sopa de Pollo (chicken soup, $2.95/$5.50) is mild but flavorful, with lime and jalapeño served on the side. It's cooked with zucchini and chayote, a small green squash that's often used in Asian cooking; in the soup, it's a pretty green color and tastes somewhat like summer squash. Pavo a Pan ($4.25) is the Salvadorean Bakery's weekend-only turkey sandwich, a jumbo affair served on crisp French bread and stuffed with grilled onions, green papaya, mayo, cabbage, and a special dark brown sauce--which, the cook revealed, is made from a number of herbs, including heavy, dark paprika. This sandwich is a great treat, a meal in itself, but we still had room for dessert: Atol de Elote ($3.50), a hot, sweet corn drink similar to eggnog in its texture, with a hint of cinnamon. It was served in a cutuco (gourd) shell, garnished with corn off the cob, and made a great finish to a worthy meal for two women trying to elude a rat.

Salvadorean Bakery
1719 SW Roxbury, 762-4064. Daily 8 am-9 pm.
No Alcohol.

Price Scale (per entrée)
$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up