24th Street Series: Salvadorian Food at Usulutan Restaurant
A couple of weeks ago, as part of my 24th Street Series, I wrote about La Palma Mexicatessen. An eatery-cum-corner store, it was and is an exemplar of good, authentic food. In addition, it exemplifies the old guard which is being not-so-slowly pushed out by the new. For the sake of juxtaposition, I then wrote about Pig and Pie, a recently minted joint which seemed to embody the rapid carpet-bagging of 24th Street.
This week, I went back in the opposite direction away from gentrification, to a long-time fixture on the northeast corner of Harrison and 24th, called Usulutan Restaurant. It proved, based on my first and possibly only visit, that the enduring presence of a restaurant isn’t necessarily predicated upon the quality of what’s in the offering (Salvadoran food, in this case).
Upon entering on a Monday evening, I was immediately struck by two things: first, the utter desolation of the place. Dappled, fading sunshine illuminated the bareness of the interior, whose population consisted solely of one waitress walking slowly between formica tables, the absent-minded swipe of her damp rag keeping time with the tectonic shift of the muffin top perched above the bedazzling embroidered upon her low-rise jeans. The second was an overpowering reek of disinfectant which nearly caused me to swivel on my heel and return from whence I came. I swallowed, and resigned myself to mouth-breathing for the next 30 minutes.
The food, while not terrible, had a spirit-crushing blandness that’s almost worse than outright shittiness. I’ve always loved the word pupusa; there’s a sensuality in that array of consonants and vowels that is thoroughly undermined by the reality: a flat, mushy disc of corn meal stuffed with a grey mush allegedly consisting of carbon-based sustenance.
I came away from Usulutan feeling bloated but oddly unsatisfied from my meal, a sensation having to do with its dispiriting flavor-shortfall and also, I suspect, it’s complete lack of nutritional value. Unlocking my bicycle, I was able to breath through my nostrils again, savoring the un-sterilized, fetid aromas of the Mission as they’re meant to be smelled.
2990 24th Street (@ Harrison)