El Trapiche Pupuseria and Restaurant sits proudly in a small strip mall just off the ever-bulbous First Avenue SW. Nearby, a former Kentucky Fried Chicken now houses a teriyaki establishment, signifying that Burien's globalization is in full swing. While it's not hard to notice the aging natives struggle with the process (and one needn't strain too hard to hear the occasional racist gripe), the community as a whole seems to be marching willingly, if somewhat wobbly, into its future.
The march is certainly made easier by the existence of a fine establishment like El Trapiche. Neat, clean, and well-lit, the small room was filled on our visit with the sound of the Spanish language cable network Univision, while a relaxed couple lounged over mostly empty plates of food. A warmly hospitable server sensed our lack of confidence: "Is this your first time eating this kind of food?," she would later ask. Her posture was clearly welcoming, as opposed to the more common eye-rolling attitude often aimed at newcomers in a variety of specialty restaurants.
The food here is solidly based in the traditions of El Salvador, and pupusas stand front and center in the parade of Salvadorian food. A pupusa resembles a twin-stacked corn tortilla, filled with cheese, pork, and beans. Sealed on the sides, these filled 'n' grilled mouth-parties exude a powerful and evocative aroma, virtually exploding with a ferocious and humid zest when punctured with the teeth. We chose the Pupusa Revueltas ($1.25), a boisterous and unbeatable combo of all three traditional ingredients. The accompanying Curtido looked like coleslaw, causing us to nearly ignore it. Yow, was it hot! What appeared to be small chunks of carrots were in fact pepper pieces, and while serving as a fine flavor sentry for the pupusa, this cabbage-vinegar pairing kissed many of the other foods we ordered as well.
Platanos Fritos con Crema y Frijoles (Fried Plantain with Sour Cream and Beans, $3.00) served as a flavor-bridge from the pupusa to the more dinner-like dishes to follow. Bronzed and golden from their sizzling trip to the frying pan, the plantains' sweet and soft texture was slapped cleanly across its face by deep purple beans. A quick dip into the sour cream smoothly provided gustatory closure to this dish, which looked beautiful, even in a styrofoam to-go container.
Pescado Frito, con Arroz y Ensalada y Tortillas (Fried Fish, Rice, Salad, and Tortillas, $6.00) introduced us to a pleasantly small fish with hellacious spikes (careful here, you might stab yourself!) and a mild flavor. A natural, head-on presentation added to the appeal of this dish, as did the tender rice and small-but-vegetable-laden salad, simply accompanied by only a lime wedge. Our Pollo Asado ($7.25) was the most ordinary of our selections. The chicken, while thin and tender, was ferociously salted, causing me to pull heavily, vigorously, and repeatedly on a large Tamarindo (Tamarind Seed Drink, $1.50). El Trapiche offers an interesting and large assortment of cold drinks, including the aforementioned Tamarindo, Horchata, bottled Fanta sodas, and a pale, non-alcoholic bottled product called Cola Champagne.
An elegant modesty surrounds El Trapiche and its food. Our server's quiet and sincere appreciation of our patronage left us in a humanistic and feel-good mood. The plain and humble surroundings were a respite from the overdone corporate nonsense of so many establishments (Yankee Diner, TGIFriday's), and created an open -- if somewhat noisy from the TV -- environ. Indeed there is more to Burien's horn of plenty than Glen Grant Chevrolet, and we can only hope El Trapiche's down-home approach is a harbinger of things to come in B-town.