Hole in the Wall: Pupuseria El Salvador, Logan, UT
On a corner near Utah State University there sits a popular fast casual latin-American restaurant called Cafe Rio. Take a right turn and you’ll pull right into a Taco Bell. These are the “go-to” spots for college students and stoners, respectively, looking for some south of the border flavors in a way north of the border town. But ask any local foodie if good Latin American fare exists in Logan, and they’ll direct you to a beat up looking strip mall between the popular Cafe Rio and well trafficked Taco Bell.
This is Pupuseria El Salvador. Yea, it’s your classic “Hole in the Wall,” but it’s also damn good, and after conditioning myself on “fake” latino flavors for far too long, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the cuisine of countries like El Salvador based on a recent trip to Pupuseria El Salvador.
This place is totally dope. I mean, if you’re the kind of pretentious diner who loves hanging out in trendy American restaurants with waiters named Todd and menus sporting “sustainable” proteins that tell you everything short of the animals individual name, then you are going to hate this place. But if you get off on trying new things in a one room, family run eatery that makes everything fresh to order, then this is your place. But first things first: what the heck is a Pupusa? Fear not, Wikipedia is for senor gringos like me:
El Salvador’s most notable dish is the pupusa, a thick hand-made corn flour or rice flour tortilla stuffed with cheese, chicharrón (cooked pork meat ground to a paste consistency), refried beans, and/or loroco (a vine flower bud native to Central America).
I never even heard of these things before arriving at the tiny place, but was expertly walked through (in English) the menu by a well spoken young lady, who also had the patience to play along while I tested out my very weak spanish. Wanting to get the full effect of Salvadorean food, I decided on two different pupusas: revueltas con chicharron, queso y frijoles (combo with pork, cheese and bacon) and the Chicharron con queso y loroco (cheese with loroco). I also got a chicken tamale. Grand total for the meal? All of $4.50 before tax.
While the kitchen worked to make my meal, the woman at the counter brought me two types of hot sauces and a large container of cabbage. A fancy presentation it was not, but I sampled the cabbage on its own and loved it. It had a nice tang and crunch from being marinated in some kind of vinegar, and wasn’t heavy with mayo like an American coleslaw. It took maybe 10 or 15 minutes for my order to come out (and I was the only one in the place) but it was well worth the wait.
The best way to describe the pupusas is like a savory, plump pancake. I really liked the texture of the homemade tortilla. I don’t think I’ve ever had homemade tortillas with real masa before, and it has an amazing texture and subtle taste that’s nothing like the off flavors of the store brands. They were a bit oily from the griddle, but I didn’t mind, and liked the soft exterior combined with more crusty pieces that had been burnt.
The fillings are the star here, and make for a great combination of flavor. The cheese is perfectly melted in both cases; a warm and gooey combination that reminds me of a Panini filling. The pork was juicy but not overpowering, while the beans had great flavor and texture. I really enjoyed the pupusas con loroco though. I don’t know how to describe the flavor, but if you’ve never had loroco, I’d encourage you to try it.
These were great on their own as well as with the cabbage, which gave a nice crunchy contrast to the gooey fillings, and helped to “lighten up” the whole dish. The ‘hot sauces’ were actually quite mild, but being a relative spice wimp I wasn’t too disappointed. As for the tamale, this was a real treat. The dough is soft and was flavored by banana leaf and seasonings, while the interior chicken meat was incredibly moist and flavorful. For just $1.25 it’s a great addition.
Pupuseria El Salvador is the kind of place I love because it’s the kind of place where you can see the passion and the pride of those who work there. It’s great food at a great price, no doubt, but a trip there is also an adventure and a learning experience. If you’ve ever needed a reminder that sometimes the best food is found in some of the most unlikely settings, this is it. How about you? Has anyone had Salvadorean food before? And do you have a favorite “hole in the wall” that’s serving up great ethnic fare in an unlikely setting?