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La Pupusa Loca: Living La Pupusa Loca

La Pupusa Loca: Living La Pupusa Loca


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Sometimes the third time is the charm. At least that was the case for Mike from Yonkers who had to go to plan C for our latest outing.

Plan A was a “hot tip” on a place in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He kept the tip to himself, but we nixed schlepping to Bloomfield during the “gridlock alert days” we were currently experiencing.

“I’ll save that one for next time,” he slyly added, still keeping us under wraps on what we might encounter in Bloomfield.

Plan B illustrated that Mike from Yonkers was experiencing much holiday duress. Under pressure to select a destination, he mistakenly consulted New York Magazine and choose the wildly popular Brooklyn Thai restaurant, Pok Pok. That he didn’t realize that a place given multiple stars (whatever they mean) by New York Magazine wouldn’t be mobbed by voracious foodies can only be excused by a combination of work and holiday stress. To make it clear to him, we sent him links with actual photos of some of the long and legendary lines waiting to dine at Pok Pok.

One thing Mike from Yonkers did know, at least we hoped he did after almost eight years as a member of our group, was that we never wait on line to dine. The options are too many for that. So one look at the links and he knew he had to go to Plan C.

Now, under immediate pressure, he went to his own backyard. His pick: a Salvadorian place just over the Bronx border in Yonkers called La Pupusa Loca.

And despite it not being in the five boroughs, La Pupusa Loca fit right into our criteria. A brightly-lit cafeteria where English was very foreign and Spanish novelas blared from multiple televisions, La Pupusa Loca featured large tables offering our group of five—Rick being absent after the very recent birth of his first child—plenty of room for food and flesh overflow.

Serious happenings on the tube.

Mike from Yonkers and I were the first to arrive, followed soon after by Zio and at that time, the lone waitress was ready to take our order. I started with a Pilsener, a Salvadorian beer, but waited on ordering food until the others arrived. By the time Gerry and Eugene arrived, however, the waitress was occupied with others and the wait seemed interminable.

“Is this the longest we’ve had to wait,” Eugene asked.

“I’m hungry,” Gerry bellowed. “I haven’t eaten since lunch.”

Finally, visibly harried, the waitress came to our table and took our orders. I needed to discover what the restaurant’s namesake, the pupusa, tasted like and ordered a bean and cheese. Foolishly thinking it would be too much for me, I passed on what I saw someone else in the restaurant getting: the “mariscada especial;” an enormous bowl of fish soup where, lobster, shrimp with the heads on, and crab claws overflowed from. Instead I went with a seafood combination of shrimp and fried fish, casamiento, a mash of beans, rice, garlic and other herbs, and chimol, a Salvadorian salsa.

Gerry and Eugene both also ordered fish; Eugene the whole red snapper with onions and Gerry the fried porgy.

“Where does porgy come from?” I asked.

“Long Island Sound,” Zio answered.

“Yeah and that’s why I ordered it. To support our local fishermen,” Gerry cracked.

An enormous platter of pork chops passed our table and Zio’s weary eyes were immediately drawn to them. “I’ll have what they’re having,” he said repeating the oft-used line.

After studiously perusing the menu, Mike from Yonkers went with the steak combination which included an egg, scrambled according to the waitress.

“Can I have it fried,” Mike from Yonkers pleaded, giving her a look she could not refuse.

The pupusas arrived first, which came with a tomato sauce on the side and a big container of homemade pickled cabbage. Our waitress said the cabbage was eaten as an accompaniment to the pupusa.

“Its Salvadorian sauerkraut,” Zio announced after trying the cabbage. And so it was, but not really needed, in my opinion to enhance the already deliciously crazy pupusa.

Salvadorian sauerkraut.

The platters began to arrive. First were Gerry’s and Eugene’s whole, fried fish, both smothered in onions. Next were the super-sized pork chops. After inspecting their enormity, Zio groaned realizing what he was in for.

Only Mike from Yonkers’ family-sized combination platter exceeded Zio’s. On the platter was a selection of beef cuts, two long “maduros,” sweet bananas, a wedge of salty hard white cheese, and a mound of rice and beans; all of it topped with the requested fried egg.

When my comparably miniscule plate arrived, the discrepancy was noticed by all. On it was just a small wedge of fish filet and a few “medium” shrimp, along with the casamiento and chimol. It was as if I ordered from the kids’ menu, if there was such a thing at La Pupusa Loca.

“Don’t worry, you can have some of mine,” Mike from Yonkers generously offered.

But I had my pride. I figured I would finish what was on my plate first before I began scavenging for more. It didn’t take long; only the dense casamiento slowed me down.

The kids’ platter: fish and shrimp.

Mike from Yonkers had hardly made a dent in his platter by the time I finished. In fact, Zio polished off the monstrous pork chops before Mike from Yonkers even touched the cheese.

Finally, I conceded. “I guess I’ll take you up on your offer,” I said to him. It wasn’t really that I was still very hungry, it was more as a prod to get him to work with a little more purpose on his platter.

He cut me a sizable wedge of “bistec,” thinly pounded grilled steak, but by the time I got to it, the meat was cold and tough as a hockey puck.

I wasn’t the only one to notice how long it was taking him to finish the gargantuan platter “Geez, we’ll be here all night,” Gerry barked.

Sensing pressure from the group, Mike from Yonkers pushed the platter away from him. “Okay, that’s it. I’m done,” he announced.

While we waited for the check, I walked around the restaurant and noticed that the placemats under the glass tabletops all had maps of Honduras. This was a Salvadorian place, wasn’t it? Was there a difference between a pupusa from Honduras and one from Salvador? Frankly, I didn’t care.

Brian Silverman chronicles cheap eats, congee, cachapas, cow foot, cow brains, bizarre foods, baccala, bad verse, fazool, fish stomach, happy hours, hot peppers, hot pots, pupusas, pastas, rum punch and rotis, among many other things on his site Fried Neck Bones...and Some Home Fries. Twitter: [email protected]_neckbones.


A Salvadoran sampler

A long, manically cheerful mural on one of the walls at Salvadoran restaurant La Pupusa Loca re-imagines Los Angeles as a mostly empty, grass-filled valley, with nothing but one church, one school and one lone strip mall, housing La Pupusa Loca.

There are of course pupusas -- thick rounds of fresh masa, stuffed with any combination of cheese, beans, pork and vegetables and griddled until crispy. And a particular mastery is evident in the pupusas de arroz, made with rice flour.

But perhaps the most unrepentant pleasure here is the empanada. A Salvadoran empanada is a ludicrously joyous affair: a fat dumpling, made of sweet, ripe mashed plantains, filled with cream and fried to crisp perfection. It’s like a plantain Twinkie from heaven. And La Pupusa Loca makes one of the best empanadas in L.A.

The restaurant uses hand-mashed plantains, chunky and pulpy. Instead of canned sweetened condensed milk for the filling, La Pupusa Loca uses freshly made poleada, a creamy mix of milk, cinnamon and a little flour. The empanada comes out fresh-mashed and fresh-fried, the browned surface beautifully cracked, its steaming yellow innards peeking out. It’s utterly, childishly delightful. Maybe 5-year-olds feel this way about Elmo.

The menu at this east Hollywood joint is dominated by small dishes such as the empanadas and pupusas. You can order them as appetizers if you want, but most diners seem happy just to get a freewheeling mix of big plates and little plates, streaming out in whatever order the kitchen happens to make them.

The restaurant is owned by Sonia and Americo de la Nuez. Americo is Cuban, Sonia is Salvadoran. Sonia’s in charge of the kitchen she sets and tweaks every recipe. La Pupusa Loca, she says, is her way of channeling her nostalgia for the large family dinners of her youth. She goes back to El Salvador every three months, traveling around the country, looking for the best traditional recipes, such as sopa de res.

This beef soup is laden with hunks of short ribs, cabbage, carrots and yucca, and a whole piece of corn on the cob. The beef broth is radiant. The flavor of each vegetable is distinct -- aromatic carrots, earthy cabbage, sweet corn -- all balanced against the pure tang of the broth. A bowl of it is as sustaining as a soup can be.

Conversely, ensalada de frutas is made for hot nights. It’s the love child of a fruit salad and a fruit drink. Fresh pineapple juice, fresh mamey juice and more, topped with fresh chopped apples and other fruits. It might be the single most refreshing beverage you’ve ever had.

Pollo en crema is fried chicken, topped with a beautifully tangy sauce of Salvadoran sour cream and rivulets of melted tomato.

In carne guisada, glorious hunks of beef are simmered to nearly melting in a mellow, warmly flavored tomato sauce. Tamales feature cloud-like masa, more like porky marshmallow fluff than anything made from corn.

Here, the fruit and dairy smoothies called licuados are gloriously dense and frothy. Order a zapote licuado if you tend toward the flowery and light get a mamey licuado if you like your tropical fruits on the ripe and fermenty side.

Michelle, the couple’s daughter and a supervisor at the restaurant, says the most popular dish is chilate con nuegados, a dessert -- or a main dish, depending on your mood. The chilate is a thick, savory drink made of ground corn the nuegados is plantains and yams, simmered in honey, with a few fried yucca doughnut balls thrown in. It’s exactly as delicious as it sounds.


Recipe Summary

  • 2 cups shredded green cabbage
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup water, or more as needed
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • ¼ teaspoon ground oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • salt to taste
  • 3 cups masa harina flour (Mexican corn masa mix)
  • 1 ½ cups water, or more as needed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, or more to taste
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped, or more to taste
  • cooking spray

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add cabbage and cook uncovered until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately immerse in ice water for several minutes to stop the cooking process. Drain.

Mix cabbage, apple cider vinegar, water, onion, carrot, oregano, red pepper flakes, and 1 pinch salt together in a large bowl. Refrigerate until flavors combine, 8 hours to overnight.

Combine masa harina, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt together in a large bowl knead until a smooth, moist dough forms. Add water if dough cracks when you press down on it. Let dough rest, 5 to 10 minutes.

Stir ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, heavy cream, and scallion together in a bowl to make a paste.

Divide dough into 8 balls. Press your thumb into the center of each ball to form an indentation. Fill indentations with ricotta cheese paste. Pinch edges together around the filling flatten and smooth into round 1/4 inch-thick patties between your palms.

Grease a skillet with cooking spray preheat over medium heat. Cook pupusas in batches until browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side.


What Is a Pupusa?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and the big question is: What is a pupusa? A beloved Salvadoran dish made of a thick corn tortilla and stuffed with a savory filling. You just mix together masa flour, salt, and water to make up the dough and then you can add in any kind of savory filling—typical options include beef, beans, cheese, and pork. These masa cakes are an authentic Salvadoran street food and are a great option for entertaining. Pupusas are often served with curtido, a fermented cabbage relish, which usually includes carrots, onions, spices, and garlic.

Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador and can easily be made in advance. They’re best when fried up in some oil and served soon thereafter, still warm with a generous helping of curtido. Pupusas are found in neighboring countries of El Salvador, and it’s also argued that they originated in Honduras. Pupusas are also very similar in construction to Venezuelan and Colombian arepas, and the Mexican dish, gorditas.

But can you eat pupusas for Christmas? Our official answer is: Sure, why not? Pupusas are an excellent dish to make ahead of the big meal and you can change up the fillings to suit any taste—serve pork, chicken, or meat pupusas with a combination of bean and cheese fillings to appease any of your vegetarian relatives and you’ve got a flawless Christmas dinner ready to roll. You can even make vegan pupusas with beans or vegan cheese they’re an incredibly versatile dish that you can spice up in any way you see fit. In fact, they’re an ideal vehicle for serving leftovers—if you’re making prime rib for Christmas Eve dinner be sure to save a portion for Christmas Day pupusas! They’re also great served as leftovers themselves, so if you make them for Christmas Eve dinner you’ll have a lovely snack ready to serve as a holiday lunch the next day.

Check out these recipes for classic pupusas and make this Christmas a pupusa-filled party. If you use red and green cabbage in your curtido, you’ve got the perfect Christmas combination.

Grated queso Oaxaca or salted mozzarella make these pupusas a must-have. Mixed with sautéed white onions and red kidney beans they’re a filling meal. Get the recipe.

Simple step-by-step instructions and an easy recipe for the accompanying cortido make this recipe an easy weeknight pick! Get the recipe.

Adding spices to the pupusa dough adds some extra excitement—this recipe calls for chili and garlic powder in addition to salt. You can also use cayenne to kick it up a notch. Get the recipe.

For an extra filling pupusa, try this recipe for pupusas de frijoles, that are stuffed with refried beans and seasoned with ground cumin. Get the recipe.

If you’re trying to make a vegan dinner, pupusas are a great call—just use any type of vegan filling or vegan cheese (vegan mozzarella works great). Serve with beans and you’ll have a balanced meal. Get the recipe.

Related Video: Try These Cheesy Arepas for a Real Treat


Pupusas and tamales, $2 small dishes, $3 to $6 soups and entrees, $6 to $13 fruit drinks, $2 to $4.

Pupusas de arroz (pupusas made with rice flour) plantain empanada tamal de elote con crema (corn tamale with cream) chilate con nuegados (hot corn drink served with plantains and yams simmered in honey with yucca doughnut balls) sopa de res (beef soup) carne guisada (stewed beef) pollo en crema zapote and mamey licuados ensalada de frutas.


Pupusas and tamales, $2 small dishes, $3 to $6 soups and entrees, $6 to $13 fruit drinks, $2 to $4.

Pupusas de arroz (pupusas made with rice flour) plantain empanada tamal de elote con crema (corn tamale with cream) chilate con nuegados (hot corn drink served with plantains and yams simmered in honey with yucca doughnut balls) sopa de res (beef soup) carne guisada (stewed beef) pollo en crema zapote and mamey licuados ensalada de frutas.


Ingredients

Recipe Preparation

Heat ¼ cup oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Cook onion, tossing occasionally, until pieces are charred on all sides, 10–12 minutes (oil will smoke and onion will pop, so be careful). Don’t stop cooking at “browned,” they need to go further.

Transfer onion to a blender, reserving oil in pan. Add beans and their liquid to blender and purée, gradually adding ¼ cup warm water if mixture is too thick and blender is struggling, until smooth.

Heat onion oil over medium. Transfer bean mixture to skillet and cook, stirring and scraping bottom of pan occasionally, until mixture is the consistency of thick Greek yogurt, 5–10 minutes season with salt. Let cool (refried beans will thicken as they sit, and that’s exactly what you want) set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat masa flour, 3 tsp. salt, and 2⅔ cups hot water on medium speed until dough is very thick and sticky (alternatively, mix in a large bowl about 1 minute). Let rest, uncovered, 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix cheese and bean mixture in a medium bowl.

Combine remaining ⅓ cup oil and 1 cup warm water in a medium bowl. Dip both hands in this mixture and rub your hands together to coat. This will prevent dough from sticking to your hands, and will hydrate dough as you assemble.

Divide dough into 12 balls (about ¼ cup each), keeping them covered with a damp towel so they don’t dry out. With 1 ball in the palm of your hand, use your thumb of the opposite hand to create an indentation in the center. Pinch sides to create a well for the filling (it should look like half of a coconut shell). Fill hole with 2 Tbsp. bean mixture. Pinch dough around filling to enclose (it’s okay if some is poking out), then gently flatten to a 4½–5" disk, dipping your hands in oil-water as needed. Repeat with remaining dough and bean mixture (you may have some filling left over).

Cook pupusa in a large cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium heat until center slightly puffs up and pupusa is browned in spots, 3–4 minutes per side. If filling leaks out, simply scrape off pan after pupusa has cooked.


Contents

The name in Nawat is kukumutzin. It’s possible that the word stems from the verb pupusawa which means to puff up.

El Salvador and Honduras both claim to be the birthplace of the pupusa. Salvadoran archeologist Roberto Ordóñez attributed the creation of the pupusa to the Pipil people due to the name meaning 'swollen' in the Pipil language, and the artifacts found in the Joya de Ceren which show ingredients and tools that were used to make an early version of pupusas. Honduran etymologists say that since the Pipil language is so close to the Nahuatl language, the Honduran Nahua tribe could have created the dish. [5] The topic of the pupusa’s origin also came up during the negotiation for the CAFTA-DR. Both nations wanted to make the pupusa an exclusive export. After two days the Honduran delegation ceded the right to El Salvador. [6]

Pupusas have been linked to the Pipil tribes who inhabited the territory now known as El Salvador. Cooking implements for their preparation have been excavated in Joya de Cerén, "El Salvador's Pompeii", site of a native village that was buried by ashes from a volcano eruption, and where foodstuffs were preserved as they were being cooked almost 2000 years ago. The instruments for their preparation have also been found in other archaeological sites in El Salvador.

The pre-Columbian pupusa were vegetarian and half-moon shaped. They were filled with squash flowers and buds, herbs such as chipilin and mora, fungi and salt. By 1570 meat had been incorporated into the filling, as noted by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún. [7]

In the late 1940s, pupusas were still not widespread across El Salvador, and were mostly localized in the central towns, such as Quezaltepeque, and cities of the country. As the population began migrating to other areas in the 1960s, pupusa stands proliferated across the country and in neighboring areas of Honduras and Guatemala, sometimes with variations in shape, size or filling. In Guatemala during the 1970s, pupusas had a half-moon shape. The half-moon shape would be considered a half-eaten pupusa in the Chalatenango area fish pupusas were uncommon, and pupusas served east of the Lempa River usually had a much larger diameter.

In the 1980s, the Salvadoran civil war forced a Salvadoran migration to other countries, mainly the United States, which made pupusas available elsewhere: Salvadoran immigrants brought the dish to most areas of the US, and they spread to Canada and Australia as well. [8]

On April 2005, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly declared pupusas as the national dish of El Salvador and every second Sunday of November would be National Pupusas Day. [9] [10] A fair is typically held on the day in the capital and a few big cities. On 10 November 2007, in celebration of National Pupusa Day, the Secretary of Culture organized a fair in the capital park in which they would make the world's biggest pupusa. The pupusa was 3.15 meters in diameter and was made with 200 lb. of masa, 40 lb. of cheese, and 40 lb. of chicharrón. It fed 5,000 people. Five years later, the record was broken again with a pupusa 4.25 meters in diameter. [7] Guinness World Records lists the largest pupusa at 4.5 metres, created in Olocuilta, El Salvador on 8 November 2015. [11]

In 2011, The Guardian named pupusas that year’s Best Street Food in New York. [12]

Both at home and abroad, pupusas are traditionally served with curtido (a pickled cabbage relish, analogous to German Sauerkraut and Korean kimchi that comes in mild and spicy varieties) and tomato sauce, and are traditionally eaten by hand.

A variant of the pupusa in El Salvador is the pupusa de arroz, originally hailing from the town of Olocuilta in the east of San Salvador. [ citation needed ] Rice flour is used to make the dough and they are usually stuffed with chopped pork, cheese, beans, zucchini, and other vegetables. Another regional variation, found in Alegría, is the pupusa de banano, which calls for the addition of plantain bananas to the pupusa.

Latin America

Pupusas are also found in neighboring Central American countries. Honduran versions use the local quesillo type of cheese for the filling. In Costa Rica, both "Salvadoran pupusas" and "pupusas" are available, the latter being a local version. There, they are a staple of the food stalls at regional carnivals known as fiestas.

A similar Mexican dish is called a gordita (literally, "little fatty"), but gorditas are usually open at one end. In Venezuela, they make arepas (where the dough is cooked first, and then sliced in half and stuffed somewhat like a hamburger). Colombia has its own recipe for arepas, but, unlike Venezuelan, Colombian arepas are usually eaten without filling, or the filling is placed inside the dough before cooking.

United States

Pupusas made in the United States are typically made with Maseca (brand) commercial corn flour-masa mix [ citation needed ] , instead of fresh masa. Some high-end pupuserías in the United States use rice flour and wheat flour versions. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, variations include using spinach, pepperoni, cheese, and green chile.

Taco Cabana, a Tex-Mex chain in Texas, created a dish called the pupusa that has no relation to the Salvadoran food. [13]


The Great Pupusa Roundup

LA is awash in pupusas. The Slavadoran patties of masa filled with cheese, pork and beans are probably the most ubiquitous food from Koreatown to downtown, from the East Valley to South LA and beyond. They are to central LA as the hot dog or pizza slice is to Manhattan…a fast food staple that is available anywhere, at anytime, from a myriad of vendors.

I’ve loved the pupusa since I first tried one 13 years ago in Dallas. Since I moved to LA, I’ve tried them all over town and even made it down to El Salvador. (If you’re ever there, check out the pupusas at El Peche Cosme in Santa Tecla). I like to think of myself as pupusero (essentially, a pupusa chowhound).

For this roundup, I spent the last month and a half going to old favorites and seeking out new tips. I went to a vast array of pupuserias, concentrated in the mid-city to downtown corridor but venturing out when I got a hot tip. One thing I learned was that there are a lot of mediocre pupusas out there – they can be hard as rocks, greasy or mealy with flavorless fillings. For the most part, I’ve left those off the list and limited my roundup to the better and the best. After all, why tell you where not to go (unless it’s someplace you might be tempted to go because of wrongheaded or outdated tips).

At each pupuseria I had at least two pupusas: one queso con loroco (a Salvadoran vegetable) and one revuelta (a combination of chicharron, cheese and, usually, refried Salvadoran red beans). In a number of the restaurants, I tried a few other varieties and even other food, which I will comment on, but I focused in on the pupusas.

What makes a good pupusa? For me, there are several elements. The masa should be crisp on the outside, well cooked and not mealy. There should be a good proportion of filling to masa such that you can’t get a bite-full of pure masa. The filling should be flavorful. El Salvador is a country of strong cheeses, not pungent like French cheese but salty and distinct. The cheese should have flavor, not be a generic Mexican queso fresco and certainly not Monterey Jack. The chicharron should have a smoky, porky flavor. If I can’t tell I’m eating pork from the first bite, I’m not happy. The curtido (the spicy cabbage slaw that serves as condiment) should be acidic and spicy and most importantly, crisp and fresh tasting. No wilted cabbage please.

And now, on with the roundup (or skip to the bottom for a summary):

The First Tier: The Best of the Best

La Nueva Flor Blanca
Beverly Blvd., west of Normandie

La Nueva Flor Blanca is a little shop on Beverly Boulevard’s Little Central America strip (between Western and Vermont), which shares a block with two Korean nightclubs and…another pupuseria. The first time I tasted a La Nueva Flor Blanca pupusa, it was a revelation. I had liked pupusas and had been eating them for years, but LNFB’s were the first ones that made me see that pupusas can be truly great. LNFB understands the gestalt of the pupusa, the relationship between masa and filling that makes it work. The pupusas there are hand made while you watch, the masa is crisp and the filling plentiful. The Queso and Loroco is excellent and so overstuffed that a bit of queso always drips out onto the grill, making for some tasty fried cheese bits. But the crux of the LNFB experience is the amazing pork. The pork filling at LNFB, which they make on-site, is the best I’ve ever had, spicy and porky and crisp. When you mix it with the cheese and beans, it makes for what I think is the single best pupusa in all of Los Angeles. I can eat three LNFB revueltas at a sitting, not out of hunger, but out of a desire to keep tasting that perfect mesh of flavors, perfectly cooked. The one complaint I have about this place is the wilted and limp curtido, but the pupusas are so good that unsatisfactory condiments will not get in the way.

La Pupusa Loca
SW corner of Wilton and Santa Monica Blvd.

La Pupusa Loca is a comfy restaurant in an unimposing stripmall. (Strangely enough, it is right next to a pizzeria called La Pizza Loca.) La Pupusa Loca may be the best all-around Salvadoran restaurant I visited. While the traditional masa pupusas were very good, the highlight were the arroz, or rice pupusas. Rice pupusas are a different breed of pupusa, made with rice flour instead of masa. They are harder to find than traditional masa pupusas, but they do appear on the occasional menu. The rice pupusas at Pupusa Loca are heavenly. The rice is fried crisp, but when you bite into them you get that chewy, sticky sensation of rice, like those southeast Asian rice paper eggrolls I love so much. The rice has less flavor and is less absorbent than masa, so the flavors of the fillings are enhanced and have to stand on their own. LPL has fabulous fillings and they stuff lots of them into each pupusa. The pork was nicely smoky, the cheese was plentiful and flavorful. Now, this is not to downplay the masa puspusas, which were excellent with a nice crispy texture, but the arroz pupusas really blew me away!

Other good eats at LPL. Liquado de Zapote, a Slavadoran fruit that I’ve only had in liquados, this one is sweet and thick, if a bit grainy, and tastes like a vanilla shake. LPL offers some of the best fried plantains I’ve ever had, with a deep brown, carmelized flavor…it was almost like eating Bananas Foster sans the booze.

Delmy Pupusas
Sunday’s Hollywood Farmer’s Market on Ivar

Delmy’s at the Sunday Hollywood Farmer’s Market dishes out pupusas to a long line of shoppers who know their heriloom radishes from their grass fed bovines. Delmy’s is the only pupuseria I’ve seen with a largely non-Salvadoran clientele, and that’s not the only thing that distinguishes it. It has a much wider menu of fillings, including shrimp, chicken and veggie but without any loroco. Instead of encasing the filling within the masa, the filling is blended throughout to make something really more akin to a Korean egg pancake than a traditional pupusa. They are flat and thin. The masa is also different. I’m not sure if it’s differently composed (flour, maybe?) or it’s just the effect of mixing everything together, but it has a slightly lighter taste and a pleasant sour tang. The curtido at Delmy’s is a purple sauerkraut that will make your lips pucker and goes with the overall sour theme. While different, these are very good pupusas. As for the fillings, the cheese could be more flavorful, but the pork has a good smoky flavor. The shrimp were plump and well cooked, but I’m just not ready for shrimp pupusas. I’m convinced that Delmy’s is the next step on the pupusa’s journey to the U.S. It is the introduction of the pupusa to a wide variety of non-Salvadorans. One day, when pupusas hit it big…when some temple of haute cuisine whose chef shops at the market starts serving a pupusa stuffed with braised pork belly, foie gras and goat cheese accompanied by a cabbage coulis, people will likely look back to Delmy’s as the bridge to mass acceptance of the once humble pupusa.

Los Chorros
Century Blvd. & Condon, Inglewood

The outer window of Los Chorros welcomes you with a clutter of beer signs, the Health Department’s giant “B,” and a poster touting it as part of Inglewood’s “No Prostitution Zone,” though looking around the parking lot, someone may want to call whatever agency enforces those zoning laws. Inside, however, are some great Salvadoran eats. I hadn’t been to Los Chorros in years, but they are still putting out great pupusas. Their queso con loroco is particularly excellent with a good crust on the masa and nice flavor. The revuelta was a bit too heavy on the beans and light on the pork for my taste. The curtido was quite spicy, but wilted.

Other good eats and Los Chorros: The other food at Los Chorros actually rates better than the pupusas. The fried tamales de elote (corn tamales) are some of the best I’ve had, crisp on the outside, sweet and moist on the inside. The Yuca and Chicharron, that heart stopping dish of deep fried yuca and pork, was insanely good, also the best version I’ve had. It has huge chunks of pork and Yuca, fried perfectly and not at all greasy…this may be one of the best pork dishes in LA.

As I said, I’m not reviewing the numerous pupuserias that I thought were not up to par, but I did want to express my disappointment with two places that are commonly recommended for pupusas.

The Texis Chain
(various locations)

The Texis chain is spread throughout the mid-city area (I went to the original Texis at Vermont and 7th). The pupusas are not horrible, but aren’t anything special either. The masa is a bit too thick and mealy and the cheese is not flavorful enough. The revuelta is nicely done with good pork flavor, but there is not enough filling. The curtido is good and heavy on the oregano. Overall, an okay choice if you’re in a pinch, but nothing to write home about.

Atlcatl is probably the most recommended pupuseria in LA. Do a search on Chowhound and you will inevitably find Atlcatl recommendations (some by me). I don’t know if it’s that they have gone downhill or that they never were that good to begin with, but their pupusas were quite disappointing. They were well fried and had a decent amount of filling, but the filling was hopelessly bland. I could barely make out the pork in the revuelta and the cheese lacked any real flavor at all. They were also somewhat dry. While I had worse pupusas at other places, these were particularly disappointing considering all of the praise that has been heaped on this place over the years. All in all, I would not recommend Atlcatl for pupusas, especially when it’s a ten minute walk to that temple of masa and pork, La Nueva Flor Blanca.

Other eats at Atlcatl: I did enjoy Atlcatl’s pan con pavo, the giant Salvadoran turkey sandwich with watercress and cabbage, drenched in a turkey gravy like a giant Phillipe’s Turkey dip with veggies.

Top Tier: La Nueva Flor Blanca, La Pupusa Loca
Runners Up: Pupusa Delmy, Los Chorros
Disappointments: Texis, Atlcatl
Other good Salvadoran eats: liquado de zapote and fired plantains and La Pupusa Loca fried tamales de elote and yuca y chicharron at Los Chorros pan con pavo at Atlcatl.

Please let me know your favorite pupuseria so I can add it to my list. Happy eating.


Bona fide pupusas

4 of 6 A meal of wheat and rice pupusas is prepared at Sabor! with a tamale, from left, curtido and plantains, and served with Chang, a drink derived from the chia seed in El Salvador. Carlos Antonio Rios/Chronicle Show More Show Less

5 of 6 This is what can be found at fast-food joints, but it's not a real pupusa, says Sabor! manager Salomón Echegoyén. Nick de la Torre/CHRONICLE Show More Show Less

Suddenly, pupusas are on everyone's mind. Or at least in everyone's sight, since they're plastered on the sign in front of every Taco Cabana.

Oh, the tender chicken strips in a hot corn tortilla. . If Taco Cabana didn't insist on calling it a pupusa, you'd think it was a fajita.

You guessed it. Like other Americanized ethnic foods &mdash from kolaches to bagels &mdash the Salvadoran pupusa has been hijacked by a major fast-food chain and, in this case, spun into a Mexican dish.

Aghast, I headed to southwest Houston in search of real pupusas and people who know the difference.

My first stop: Sabor!, arguably Houston's most upscale Salvadoran restaurant. It was midafternoon, and the lunch crowd was gone the only person in the dining area was manager Salomón Echegoyén.

Had he heard of Taco Cabana's new pupusas? He rolled his eyes.

"I'm not sure it helps us," he said. "Because they're not pupusas at all. But it gives us publicity."

In most of the United States, the only Latin-American cuisine that has received the fast-food treatment is Mexican. And that treatment hasn't always been kind.

Take the chalupa, for example. What Taco Bell calls a chalupa &mdash a deep-fried tortilla stuffed with fajita meat &mdash isn't a chalupa at all.

That's what concerns Echegoyén, because the pupusa is an icon of its country of origin.

"The pupusa is to El Salvador what the nopal is to Mexico," he said. "It's the national dish and if a woman &mdash especially from the countryside &mdash doesn't know how to make them, then she is not Salvadoran."

When Echegoyén spoke about pupusas, his eyes lit up, the pitch of his voice rose and his words began to run together. Then he stood up and headed to the kitchen. He wanted the cook, Miriam Pineda, to show me what it takes to make real pupusas &mdash perfect pupusas.

Pineda is a hearty woman who learned to make pupusas out of necessity. When she was young and unemployed, she begged a street vendor to teach her the trade.

"The first one I made looked like a map," she said.

"Yeah," Echegoyén said, "when you first start making them, your tortillas look like Garfield."

Pineda grabbed a handful of dough. (Traditionally, pupusas are made out of corn, but in the U.S., Maseca, a corn flour-masa mix, is used. At a high-end restaurant such as Sabor!, the dough is made with rice flour and, for the carb-conscious, wheat flour.)

Pineda stuffed the dough in one palm, and with her other hand worked it into a pouch. She took a handful of shredded pork, beans and cheese and stuffed it inside.

She then sealed it with one hand and cut the extra dough between her thumb and forefinger with the other. Then she quickly placed it on one palm and clapped it into a perfectly round tortilla.

When she put it on the grill, it puffed as it browned. When I ripped it open, steam rose from it.

Echegoyén said even the presidents of El Salvador eat pupusas with their hands. There, most are sold on the streets in pupuserias, reminiscent of the taco trucks seen around Houston.

Before you eat a pupusa, it's tradition to sprinkle it with curtido, a pickled salad made with cabbage and carrots. I took a bite. The cheese had melted. The salty pork mixed well with the tart vinegar. And the tortilla, moist and just slightly sweet, complemented it all just like a perfect crust complements a pizza.

I left with a bag full of pupusas and a list of instructions: The rice-filled pupusas are meant to be eaten hot and without curtido. If you serve them in the morning, pupusas should be heated in a little bit of oil coffee and, especially, hot chocolate make perfect companions.

And always, always eat pupusas with your hands.

While the concept is simple, there are many takes on the pupusa. At El Pupusódromo, the curtido was spicy. At La Pupusa Loca, the pupusas were so loaded with pork that the fat seeped through the tortilla. At Mondongo Restaurante, they were light on stuffing.

Ana María Aguilera swears by La Pupusa Loca. She owns Variedades Teresita, a small store next to the restaurant, and says the eatery serves well-balanced pupusas.

When her family lived in Austin, they used to trek to Houston, just for the food. But she won't go to Taco Cabana, even if curiosity has almost gotten the best of her.

"What do they know about pupusas?" she asked.

I asked if she knew how to make them. She said yes, without adding "of course." Sitting on a plastic chair and watching a Univisión talk show, she ran her hand across her forehead to clear the sweat.

There's a lot more to making pupusas than technique, she said. "Anyone can make a tortilla."


Watch the video: La Pupusa Loca sv (May 2022).