Walter Mencken 10:15 a.m., Dec. 13
City Heights' Pupuseria
Few things are more satisfying to eat on a cool evening (or any evening) than this Salvadoran specialty — a great alternative to tacos!
I espied El Salvador Pupuseria on my way back from Tom’s BBQ. Honestly, I don’t know how it had evaded my scrutiny for so long. I adore pupusas. I’m not the only one, either. Bedford did a whole Tin Fork about them a while back, giving a thorough treatment to the Salvadoran specialty that’s kind of like a Mexican gordita, but really more of its own thing. I'm lucky enough to have found some Uptown, meaning less travel for me!
It would be a lie to say that El Salvador (the restaurant, not the country) is anything fancy, cozy, or shiny. The building is run down and was never any prettier than an old Pizza Hut to begin with. Still, it’s maintained well enough and the brightly lit, open kitchen where women toil over the hot plancha and wrestle pupusas into shape with practiced vigor, is marvelous to behold.
None of that matters when you get a plate of steaming hot pupusas. I nearly burned my fingers and mouth off by ripping into the first one, but the risk was so worth it. They were greasy and messy, but I could have shoved pupusas into my mouth until I keeled over and died. They came with a copious side of thin, spicy salsa, which I sopped up with great zeal. The spicy, fermented cole slaw (called curtido) might have been the glorious bastard child of sauerkraut and Haitian “pickliz.” I relished every bit. To drink, the restaurant has sodas and aguas frescas, but I had to try the atol de elote, a hot drink made from corn. It was about halfway between a dessert and a beverage, but the curious flavor and syrupy texture were just right for a cold evening. And don’t think I forgot dessert. The empanadas de leche (fried plaintian puree stuffed with sweet cream) capped off the experience.
Sadly, pupusas reheat poorly, so this wonderful experience is best had on site. At $2 a piece, however, there’s nothing to stop the world from marching to City Heights and packing the dining room of El Salvador Pupuseria. Next time, I have to try the pacayays, fried palm flowers that look like squid!
3824 University Avenue
Open daily 9-9:30