Restaurant review: The culture — and food — of El Salvador thrives at Mi Chalateca Restaurant and Pupuseria in Federal Way.

The music is Spanish, the singer wailing about being enamorado. Children dressed in their Sunday best munch thick corn tortillas and drink milky horchata as entire families gather around large tables at Mi Chalateca Restaurant and Pupuseria in Federal Way.

When you pass through the door to this small restaurant, the strip mall and suburbia fade away and you’ve entered an enclave where the culture of El Salvador thrives. Here the food, the waiters and the customers are Salvadoran. If you are from El Salvador, or love the food, then Mi Chalateca is home base.

The motherly owner, Ana Jimenez, ambles up to the tables.

“Is good?” she asks.

“Sí,” I say.

The menu: Lots of chicken and seafood dishes, with rice, fresh vegetables and, of course, pupusas — light snacks such as tortillas with beans.

What to write home about: The Molcajete ($15.99), grilled thin slices of steak, accompanied by rice, beans, cheese and sausage; the delicious drink horchata ($2), made from chufa nuts and almonds; and, my favorite, the ensalada ($2), a drink of grated apples and other fruit.

On another visit, I ordered the Pollo Guisado ($10), a chicken stew with a large piece of roasted breast served with carrots and other vegetables. My friend also raved about the chicken for its flavor and tenderness.

The setting: Since discovering this place with the festive yellow-and-blue walls and posters of El Salvador’s tropics, I come here often. I’ve always been the only non-Hispanic in the place — a good sign that this is authentic Salvadoran food.

Summing up: Two entrees, two drinks and deep-fried plantains for dessert came to $35.89. It was simple, good food and more than we could eat, for a great price.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522

or nbartley@seattletimes.com