When you walk into Los Panditas, look behind the counter for the trompa. It’s what makes this place unique in Salem.
‘Trompa’ is the Spanish word for ‘top.’ It is a vertical rotisserie, just like the one used in Middle Eastern restaurants to make shawarma or Greek gyros. Lebanese immigrants brought the trompa with them to Mexico beginning in the early 20th century. It quickly became a popular way to make tacos throughout central Mexico and the Yucatan. The spit of the trompa is stacked with slices of pork that have been marinated, and a fresh pineapple is added on top. As the meat is carved off the bottom of the stack it begins to resemble a spinning top, hence the name. The juices from the roasting pineapple help to tenderize the meat. The meat from the trompa is called al pastor or pastor for short. It literally means “shepherd style,” harkening back to the Middle Eastern version that typically uses lamb instead of pork.
At Los Panditas you can get your authentic pastor in several ways. You can have taquitos al pastor ($1.50 each), which is the most common preparation in Mexico. These are small tacos served with two tortillas, topped with the pastor and a little of the roasted pineapple, onions, cilantro and salsa. You can also have your pastor in a torta ($6.50), a Mexican sandwich made on roll called a telera. Another preparation is la gringa ($7.50). This is similar to a quesadilla. It consists of two large flour tortillas with the pastor, roasted pineapple, and cheese in the middle. It is grilled until the cheese melts and the tortilla becomes toasty.
Los Panditas has a very extensive menu. There are 13 different kinds of tortas to choose from, including the Cubana ($8.00) which is loaded with several different meats, cheese and a fried egg.
An excellent posole is served every day ($10). This is a spicy chicken soup with hominy. It is served with onions and lettuce and crispy fried corn tortillas to add to your bowl to taste. Like the Cubana, the soup is for big appetites, or you can ask for an extra bowl and share. Another unique item on the menus is tortitas de pollo en salsa verde ($10). These are a kind of chicken croquette smothered in a green chile sauce, served with rice and beans. We don’t recall seeing this on a menu elsewhere in Salem.
Maria Isabel and her husband Luis have been operating Los Panditas for nearly a decade. They hail from Toluca, near Mexico City, and their menu includes most of the food common in the Mexican capital. Last year they had a very successful booth at the State Fair. They were there with their trompa serving up their signature pastor. We hope to see them there again this year, but in the meantime you should stop in and try their delicious and authentic pastor and other well-prepared food from central Mexico.
TAQUERIA LOS PANDITAS
3892 State Street
Salem, Oregon 97301
Monday – Sunday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.