Last year the popular South Valley Pupuseria y Restaurant Salvadoreño opened a satellite restaurant on Gibson and San Mateo, in the shadow of the infamous “Chevy on a Stick” statue. When I ate there recently, I was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a famous set of golden arches and the word “McShit.”I mention this because when my bill arrived, it said “5% off because of the shirt.”Ed Aguilar, who co-owns the pair of restaurants with his mother Ruth, earned points for giving me points for my shirt. But he gets more for running a top-notch restaurant.As I ordered at the counter, Aguilar asked if I wanted something to drink. I surveyed the drink options and thought to myself, Here we go again. All I saw was the painfully familiar lineup of soft drinks and little else—drink selection is the Achilles’ heel of otherwise interesting restaurants. Perhaps sensing my frustration, Aguilar flipped over the menu and exposed a back page full of fresh juices, aguas frescas and smoothies. I settled on a tamarind agua fresca and an orange-carrot-celery juice, freshly made on the spot.The ambience of the new Pupuseria y Restaurant Salvadoreño is happy and laid back, like a small beachside cabana. The cinder-block walls are covered with neon beach towels sporting depictions of coffee pickers, a market scene and, of course, a pupuseria. Paper palm trees lurk in the corners and salsa music blares. A covered patio offers outdoor seating (and a view of McDonalds).Pupusas are like advanced corn tortillas—as thick as pancakes and stuffed with goodies. In addition to a deep line of pupusas (chicharrón, fish, chicken, beef, ham and cheese, carne asada, beans, cheese, calabacitas), the menu includes an assortment of dishes that may seem vaguely familiar to aficionados of cuisines from south of the border. The large tamale Salvadoreño wasn’t drenched in red or green chile but was filled with olives, potatoes, capers and shredded chicken.Plain pupusas, which come with most meals, are eaten with a mild tomato sauce and a side salad called curtido, a sort of Salvadoran sauerkraut of pickled cabbage with flecks of beet, oregano and chile.Five bucks for a side of boiled yucca seemed a little steep, but I went for it because I have a soft spot for those sweet tubers. The yucca arrived alongside a small salad and a large helping of chicharrónes, which easily moved it from overpriced to a deal. The fried tilapia was large, with a golden exterior and thick flesh. Slices across each filet increased the fried surface area and allowed the pieces to be extracted with minimum effort. The feast of a plate was rounded out by vegetable-studded rice, a side of fresh and spicy pico de gallo, and two plain pupusas with attendant pupusa condiments. I licked every last bone.Fish soup (caldo de pescado) had a touch of sour cream and delivered a whole-body satisfaction akin to a fish coconut curry. This Salvadoran comfort food can also be ordered with shrimp.The flavor of a green chile pupusa was similar to a chile relleno, while the loroco pupusa, stuffed with the buds of the Central American loroco flower (aka Fernaldia pandurata),was thoroughly unique. The loroco had a wild, vegetative presence, like fiddlehead ferns or asparagus.Pupuseria y Restaurant Salvadoreño is worth a visit, whether it’s at the new address or the flagship location on Bridge. The food is full of pleasant surprises and simple elegance. And it’s served by friendly staff who know enough to reward you for making fun of McDonalds.
The Alibi recommends:• Surf—Mojarra frita (whole fried tilapia), caldo de pescado• Turf—boiled yucca, loroco flower and chicharrón pupusas, tamale Salvadoreño• Washing it all down with a glass of carrot-orange-celery juice
Savory pupusas are eaten with curtido , a kind of Salvadoran sauerkraut.
Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
A feast for the eyes— mojarra frita plates a whole, fried fish with a host of sides.