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Apr 17, 2008 01:45 PM

Mini Pupusa Roundup

Having recently and temporarily moved to the Mission, I've commenced a thoroughly unsystematic survey of the basic local foodgroups. My findings thus far in the pupusa category:

Balompie: I love this place, especially on Sundays at lunch, when it's full of huge families eating enormous platters of fried stuff with sides of beans. The pupusas were delicious. Neither as crispy nor as greasy as the ones at Antojitos Salvadorenos, below, but plenty toasty on the outside with deep flavor from the fillings and a nice, crisp, vinegar-heavy curtido. I had one cheese and bean and one cheese and chicharron, and would be hard-pressed to say which I liked better.

Antojitos Salvadorenos: these were good too, and they came out hotter and crunchier than the ones at Balompie. The fillings (same as above) struck me as slightly less "round" tasting, but that might have been because the outsides figured so much more prominently in the total experience. Curtido was drier and more fermented than Balompie's--still good, but I missed the vinegar hit--and the red salsa was particularly great. Tangy and complex, with a little kick. This is the only one of the three where it seemed like it would be possible to order a single pupusa.

Usulutan: these were fine (again, same fillings), but distinctly less exciting than the others. Neither particularly crispy, nor particularly flavorful, and the curtido was mixed in with the red sauce, which significantly flattened the overall effect.

Prices at all three were about the same: around $4 for two, with the atmosphere at Balompie being, in my mind, a cut above.

Antojitos Salvadorenos Aminta
2578 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Balompie Cafe
3349 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Usulutan Restaurant
2990 24th St, San Francisco, CA

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  1. Has anyone else tried the delectable pescaditos at balompie? they come with one of the combos, i believe, and consist of a heaping pile of whole fried smelt, heads and all. not for those who don't like fishy things, but great for those who do.

    4 Replies
    1. re: tex.s.toast

      I haven't, but I definitely will next time, now that you've called my attention to it. I love smelt. Thanks for the heads up.

      1. re: tex.s.toast

        My last experience with fried smelt was less than stellar (Duarte's in Pescadero) - there seemed to be very crunchy, gravel-like sand in them which made each bite seem like I'd broken a tooth or lost a filling... Were these gravel-free? :-)

        1. re: RWCFoodie

          I wouldn't describe them as sandy but I would also have to say that smelt is definitely a controversial item (it seems to really polarize opinions for or against it). texturally the smelt at Balompie were really super crispy in an almost-fried-to-death kind of way, so there certainly was a lot of crunch. my main point of reference was some positively delicious fried smelt at the Minnesota state fair last summer. In comparison my smelt at Balompie were smaller and as a result the surface area to volume ratio (read: "fried-ness") was substantially higher.

          1. re: tex.s.toast

            Thanks - I wouldn't be against almost-fried-to- death but I do draw the line at pea-sized gravel as an ingredient in my fried smelt!!!

      2. Hola, sarah, a couple weeks ago I popped into the Mission food mall to try Aminta's offerings for breakfast. The revuelta pupusa was very good, and, yes, you can indeed order just a single one. I liked the self-serve curtido, shown here, , and the red tomato salsa is offered up in a squeeze bottle. The pupusa was made to order, in the kitchen across the hall.

        I also tried a chicken tamal, $2, which was not so special. Wouldn't order it again.

        To drink, I ordered atol de piña, $3, not really knowing what it was. Here's the enormous serving, . No corn, as far as I could taste. This seemed like ground up, crushed canned pineapple, brown sugar, and the interesting part was swollen peppercorns (pimiento) for some piquancy.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I was back here on Saturday afternoon for the Mission Walk, . On entering the food mall, the out-of -town visitors said that it reminded them of the stalls they visit in Mexico. And, one confessed that she was pleased to be here in SF as she was always a little worried about trying the street food in Mexico.

          This time a different lady waited on me at Aminta and she said we had to order two pupusas at a time. I got the revuelta again, and even though my charges were protesting "no más", they managed to polish off the pair. We cut them into quarters to share. Our German lady said she could only eat the pupusa, not having room for the curtido. I insisted saying that it would be like eating wurst without senf, and when she tried them together, she liked the combination so much, she made the others taste it too.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Hi Melanie! Aminta seems to have a policy of having no policy on the one vs. two pupusa question. I'm back in the Mission now, after a 6 month hiatus, and have been effectively living on pupusas. A couple weeks ago, I finally asked why I'm sometimes allowed to order singles and sometimes not, and the woman working there smiled sweetly and said "sometimes is ok, sometimes not ok." For what that's worth. Not that it bothers me, since I nearly always want two.)

            I have another mini-review to add to my list from above: since I now live closest to Panchita #2, I got pupusas from there a couple times before realizing that I'd really just rather walk to Balompie. Panchita's are fine, but they're not nearly as round-tasting as Balompie's and I much prefer Balompie's sharper, more vinegar-y, and just generally more flavorful slaw.

            Panchita's does, however, have a very nice chicken tamale. So I still go there plenty, on my pupusa off nights(!)

            Other things I like at Balompie: huevos rancheros (it's just fried eggs in a homey tomato sauce, served with their delicious beans and those Salvadorean tortillas), shrimp soup, and chicken soup. Still haven't tried the pescaditos. Rice is truly mediocre. Which doesn't matter much so long as you always make sure to use it only as a vehicle for the beans.

            1. re: sarahmilne

              Halo, Sarah! Glad to hear that you're back in our fair city, and especially that you're eating well and posting again. I couldn't help but think of you when I was escorting the four German speakers to Aminta and trying to keep my Spanish vocabulary from getting mixed up with Deutsch. And, one did say that with the low price and deliciousness, it would be easy to live off pupusas! I must confess that i've never been to Balompie, it seems like an all round favorite . . . excepting the rice.

        2. I've been to Balompie a couple of times for breakfast. Last weekend I had the queso and the pollo y queso pupusas. The cheese was oozy in a good way. They were delicious. Good atmosphere too.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Senor Popusa

            Balompie is a family favorite of ours. . .we love their pupusas and I find their curtido to be superior to most places. . .they recently expanded their menu to include "special" pupusas. . .one being the Italiana which is cheese and prosciutto. I was intrigued and ordered it. . it is actually quite nice. . .salty, cheesey with fresh oregano in the filling that nicely accents the prosciutto. They also have the Mexicana which is good but at time can be greasy - it depends who cooks it. The chicken soup is a sick day go-to for me. . .I like to break up the thick little corn tortillas into the soup. . instant latin style matzo! Also, always ask for the escabeche. . it's tasty.

            I also like the pupusas at Panchita's #3 - a "higher" end place. . ask them NOT to cut your pupusas. . the cooks might look wounded but it's worth it because the pupusas are plump and flavorful. . also of note there are their chilaquiles.

            1. re: pastryqueen

              I'm glad that there is some creativity going on with pupusas. I like pupusas, but if ever there was a food ready for ... more ... the pupusa is it.

              Panchita No. 3
              3115 22nd Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

          2. Hi Sarah I just posted my one of my favorite Pupusas finds and just saw your post so sorry was not trying to start this as a topic.
            I went to The New Spot yesterday, see my post. I am in love with their Pupusas.
            I like them better than Antojitos which I think are pretty darn good and I agree Usulutan is just ok, in fact I did not finsih it when I was there.