North America can seem, at times, like it has only three countries. When looked at from a distance, it is built like a funnel: at the top is the absurdly large land mass that is Canada, below it is the somewhat smaller United States, then further down, the even smaller Mexico. But when you dig deeper, and look south of Mexico, you will find a bounty of wonderful, if under appreciated cuisines from those comparatively minuscule countries. Los Angeles contains the food from a great many of them (yet oddly, almost none from Canada). There are restaurants representing Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and most prolifically, El Salvador. Despite its petite frame, El Salvador has infiltrated our city, laying siege with an armada of small restaurants and pupuserias. In honor of them, today's food fight tackles the humble and very popular pupusa revuelta.
Pupusas are, quite simply, corn dough filled with something that tastes good, then cooked. They are served hot, alongside some lightly pickled cabbage and a very thin, relatively mild tomato salsa. The revuelta most often contains cheese, refried beans and the Salvadoran version of chicharrón (pork cooked down to a dense paste). Our first version was at Atlacatl, the spacious, cash-only sit down, where their revuelta eschews the beans in favor of the simplicity of pork and cheese.
The pupusa has a crisp exterior, and the inside has a soothing softness to it, the cooked-down pork intermingling with the cheese to create something soulful and comforting. The purity of it is something to behold. Cheese and pork are often things that get served in massive heaps, but when left in smaller portions, with crispy corn dough as their vessel, their real qualities come to the forefront. The addition of the cabbage and salsa only enhances the flavors.
Texis #3 is a little further south, in a strip mall in Koreatown. The prices are cheaper (though Atlacatl's run a mere two dollars and change), and the restaurant is a bit dingier. Their revuelta includes the beans, and is cooked to a more golden color. You can taste the pork more in this one, but it is not reduced to as fine a paste, and thus, joins less cohesively with the cheese. The beans also have a tendency to dominate the flavor, and the cabbage is not quite as fresh.
Obviously, if you were to be served either of these dishes, you would be more than happy with the food in front of you. But if we were presented with a plate of either and asked to choose, we would reach for Atlacatl's swiftly, decisively, and without hesitation or regret.
Atlacatl: 301 North Berendo Street, L.A., (323) 663-1404., Texis #3: 698 South Vermont Avenue, Koreatown, (213) 387-8890.