LA's Best Pupusas? Here Are A Few Of Them
How do you know when you're eating a great pupusa? It's delicious, obviously, but there's more to it than that. There's a moment, after you've pulled off a piece of pupusa, dipped it in salsa de tomate and scooped up as much curtido as you can, when your mouth meets the chewy dough and crisp bits of fried cheese... that's when glory happens.
Messy but totally worth it, the traditional Salvadoran pupusa is a thick, handmade corn flour tortilla stuffed with cheese, refried beans, chicharrón (pork) or some combo of the above. It's served with the tart cabbage slaw known as curtido and a thin tomato salsa that can be poured over your pupusa or used as a dip.
The great thing about the pupusa is that, like pizza, even when it's ordinary, it's still pretty great. But not all pupusas are created equal, especially in Los Angeles where the popular dish is everywhere.
Since 1998, this Grand Central Market stand has been wowing denizens of downtown L.A. The menu includes standard fillings like cheese and loroco (a vine with edible flowers native to El Salvador) as well as less common options like basil, spinach, broccoli, shrimp and garlic. If you manage to snag a seat at the small counter, you can watch the staff, mostly women, pat the pupusas and fry them on the grill. The pupusas come to you warm with ingredients that spill out as you tear them apart. For an extra dollar, order your pupusas with rice flour, which makes them chewier and gives them a lighter color. All of Sarita's pupusas are gluten-free.
Fun Fact: Sarita's was a filming location for a date scene in La La Land.
317 S. Broadway, downtown LA. 213-626-6320.
PRICE: $3.65-$4, cash and credit card
Atlacatl looks like another typical East Hollywood house but its kitchen makes some of the best pupusas in the city. With only four fillings to choose from (pork, beans, cheese and loroco), they better be good — and these pupusas are. Pair them with an order of Atlacatl's extraordinary casamiento, the Salvadoran version of black beans and rice, and a tall glass of Salvadoran horchata, a less milky version of the drink made with morro seeds. Get it all while you can. After nearly three decades, Atlacatl will be closing by the end of 2019. Co-owner Marilyn Fuentes says the landlord recently sold the property. Fortunately, she owns another, more formal sit-down Salvadoran restaurant, Jaraguá, a few blocks west of Atlacatl, which also serves pupusas.
301 N. Berendo St., East Hollywood. 323-663-1404
PRICE: $3.10-$3.60, cash only
Paseo San Miguel
Paseo San Miguel is a South L.A. favorite with four locations throughout the area and one in East L.A. On weekend mornings, families line up outside to be seated in the small restaurant, which has expanded with a patio because it gets so full inside. The vast menu includes everything from a typical Salvadoran breakfast of eggs, refried beans and plantains to sopa de pata, a hearty soup made with cow's feet, tripe and corn. When it comes to the warm, doughy pupusas, you have 18 fillings to choose from. Aside from the basics, you might select shrimp, spinach, zucchini, carne asada and jalapeños, and you can mix them up in almost any combo you like.
1560 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., South L.A. 323-294-0201
3723 S. Western Ave., South L.A. 323-998-0066
6051 Vermont Ave., South L.A. 323-920-6291
3874 S. Western Ave, South L.A. 323-737-0787
4623 Rosemead Blvd, Pico Rivera. 562-908-8800
Before you place your order at Sonsonate Grill, you'll receive a bowl of fried corn tortillas (not to be confused with tortilla chips) to dip into refried beans or guacamole. The colorful restaurant has two large murals on its walls. One is a map of the municipality of Sonsonate in El Salvador, and the other is a snapshot of a village with families on a bus and food stands in front of colorful buildings. Sonsonate Grill makes only a few kinds of pupusas — cheese and rice, cheese and squash, revueltas (cheese, beans and pork) and a few others — but they're good enough to satisfy the pickiest Salvadoran expats. Sonsonate has three outposts in South L.A. and all do the dish proud. The Western Ave. location also makes cheese pupusas with rice flour.
5011 S. Western Ave., South L.A. 323-296-7470
4350 S. Avalon Blvd., South L.A. 323-233-1333
8711 Long Beach Blvd., South Gate. 323-537-2508
Don Lencho Restaurant
It's easy to miss Don Lencho's if you're driving down Normandie Ave. The outdoor restaurant is covered by metal roofing that provides shade for the many families who come to eat pupusas and mojarra frita (fried fish) while watching news and fútbol on TV. The family-owned restaurant sticks to four pupusa fillings — beans, cheese, pork and loroco — but they don't disappoint with the perfect balance of chewiness and crispiness to them. The name isn't based on an invented character. The real Don Lencho, aka Lorenzo Gonzales, opened the restaurant 25 years ago and his daughters now co-own it, along with another location on Broadway and 60th.
6119 Normandie Ave., South L.A., 323-751-7533
5974 S. Broadway, downtown L.A. 323-751-0069
El Baron is an oldie but a goodie. Like most Salvadoran sit-down restaurants, on Sunday afternoons it fills with families eating pupusas and caldo de siete mares, literally "soup of the seven seas," while cumbias play in the background and soccer games screen on the TVs. The pupusas are listed as an antojito (appetizer) on the menu but if you order two or three, you're set for the day. El Baron also serves Mexican food and has a second location in Culver City that is both a nightclub and a restaurant.
2757 W. Pico Blvd, Mid-City. 323-954-1384
8641 Washington Blvd., Culver City. 310-841-6298
Two Guys Plaza
Driving north on Vermont Ave. towards Koreatown, you'll pass L.A.'s El Salvador Corridor where you can find Salvadoran markets, a Salvadoran bank where people transfer money to relatives back home and some of the best Salvadoran food around. Vendors set up on the sidewalk in front of Two Guys Plaza to sell pupusas, queso duro (a Salvadoran hard, salty cheese) and flor de izote, the Salvadoran national flower used in many dishes. At the stand near the north entrance of the parking lot, you'll find a woman who has been selling pupusas for a couple of months. (She asked that we not share her name.) Every day, she sets up a stand where she sells traditional cheese, loroco, bean and pork pupusas. Although this Salvadoran version of a farmer's market is busier on weekends, "I work every day," she said in Spanish. Parking can be gruesome but the bean pupusas are worth the nightmare. Her salsa de tomate is thicker, closer to a paste and worth every bite. At only $2 apiece, the pupusas are also a deal.
1133 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown.