Pupusas were once my Proustian madeleine—a food that transported me so instantly and completely back to El Salvador that I could swear I heard roosters crowing and men hacking at trees with their machetes. But it’s been more than six years since I finished my Peace Corps service, packed my bags and started down a path that had nothing to do with killing chickens or riding in oxcarts or licking the foam off wooden spatulas dipped into giant, boiling vats of sugarcane juice.
Since then, I’ve eaten pupusas on both coasts of the US, including on a random highway outside of Asheville, NC, and I’ve made at least one convert. (When I G-chatted said convert to ask if he wanted any of the pupusas I was picking up for this story, he replied, in perfect Spanish, “Dos revueltas, por favor.”) Now, years later, pupusas are more a food I love than a metaphysical talisman.
But my adoration remains undiminished. A pupusa, for the uninitiated, is basically a thick, Salvadoran-style corn tortilla stuffed with whatever you want—cheese, refried beans, chicharrones, steak, the Central American loroco flower, or all of the above. It’s served with curtido, a type of pickled cabbage that resembles sauerkraut, and a red salsa—not the chunky, Mexican salsa you’re picturing, but a smooth, nonspicy tomato sauce that’s often stored in ketchup-style squeeze bottles and resembles gazpacho in both flavor and consistency.
At Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño, the pupusas are enormous and expertly crafted. (I’ve made plenty of pupusas in my time, and getting the beans, cheese and meat to stay inside the tortilla rather than spilling out in every direction is actually tricky.) They’re $2.50 a pop—about 10 times what they cost last time I was in El Salvador, but then, we don’t live in a country where approximately half of the residents live in poverty and per-person GDP tops out at $4,000.
Bottom line: Depending on your appetite, lunch here costs between $2.50 and $5; it’s delicious, and it at least has the potential to be healthy. The restaurant’s location, adjacent to the Days Inn at the corner of Cerrillos and Siler Roads, seems less than ideal, but the interior is cool and quiet, the service efficient and friendly.
Edwin Aguilar, whose family owns the place, says they decided to open a pupusería in Santa Fe after their two Albuquerque locations flourished.
“People used to drive all the way to Albuquerque,” Aguilar, whose mother’s recipe gives the pupusas their magic, says. “It was just customer demand.”
This is one Santa Fe restaurant that doesn’t depend solely on the summer tourist season, but Aguilar says the past few months have been tough nonetheless. Construction on Cerrillos, he says, “just totally wiped out a year” of business. But the hotel helps by sending customers over, he says, and there will always be the regulars—including Salvadoran expatriates.
Aguilar says about half of the people who come to the restaurant know exactly what they want, while the other half “have no idea what they’re getting.”
But now you know, Santa Fe. Take a tip from the man-friend, and just ask for “Dos revueltas, por favor.” Five bucks later, you’ll be in lunchtime heaven.
Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño
2900 Cerrillos Road
Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.