QUESTION: Where in the Greater L.A. area can you go for real pupusas? And no, pupusas filled with Monterey jack dont count.
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Jack M., Los Angeles
ANSWER: On the East Coast, real pupusas can be a problem. There is apparently something like a Northeastern Pupusa Cartel that manufactures the Salvadoran snack treats in an undisclosed New Jersey location and flings the doughy saucers in unmarked freezer trucks throughout the entire Mid-Atlantic region. If the Salvadoran restaurants in Brooklyn are any indication, it is apparently as risky to make a pupusa from scratch as it was for competitors of the Corleones to import their own olive oil, if you catch my drift.
But here in balmy Los Angeles, home to more Salvadorans than any city but San Salvador itself, a request for pupusas is almost always followed by the comforting slap-slap of dough being thrown around in the kitchen, and there must be 300 decent places to get your pupusa on. When a pupusa is good, it is very, very good, crisp-edged, fragrant, oozing salty, melted cheese. Like a roadside hamburger, even when a pupusa is bad, it is still pretty swell.
At Atlacatl, which is on the swank side, pupusas mostly serve as appetizers, though pretty much everybody here seems to get one or two, and theyre great, especially the revueltas, stuffed with milky, salty cheese and caramelized roast pork. Texis No. 3 belongs to the most reliable of the chains, and the pupusas are a little careful, almost tender rather than crisp, with a mild smack of corn. And I remain fond of El Amanecer, whose pupusas are on the soft side, with neither crust nor crunch, but with a certain richness that may change the way you think about pupusas. Atlacatl, 301 N. Berendo St., L.A., (323) 663-1404; Texis No. 3, 698 Seventh St., at Vermont Avenue, L.A., (213) 387-8890; El Amanecer, 3059 W. Eighth St., L.A., (213) 382-2591.