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Pupusas : SFBA Dish of the Month September 2014

Pupusas are the September 2014 dish of the month!

Dish of the Month is an activity where we collectively try as many versions of Pupusas as we can, reporting back with details and photos. We aim to try versions that are new to you.

Never heard of Pupusas before? Great! Now's your chance to try it for the first time and tell us what you think!

Pupusas are a Salvadoran thick, hand formed, tortilla-like product that's usually filled before grilling. The accompaniments are a watery tomato salsa and a slaw called curtido. Fillings vary and the dough can be (nixtamalized) corn or rice-based.

Report back on the Pupusas you eat, how you like them, and what they're like.

Previous reports:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/801845
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9719... (fresh masa vs. masa harina )

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  1. Oh, I'll start. I just took 2 cousins out for these items on Thursday.

    Cousins from upstate NY and Paris...it's increasingly a struggle when they visit every year to find something new or novel to intrigue them. This year it struck me: Pupusas! And in fact neither of them knew what these are. It also served as an excuse to get them out of the Mission and Bernal.

    Sadly, Los Planes De Renderos appears to be shuttered.

    So we ended up at Los Guanacos (4479 Mission in the Excelsior).

    The Pupusas: Good, not great. Not greasy, which was important for the French cousin who has a deep aversion to fried things. Masa was good, but it didn't seem like fresh-made nixtamal. The loroco and cheese had plenty of loroco. Beans were quite flavorful, likewise the chicharon.

    The curtido was a weak point. It was a bit limp. But it was bright and very vinegar-y; I think it had just sat too long -- we were there shortly before closing.

    In comparison with El Zocalo, which is where I have had 90% of my pupusas in the past 10 years, Guanacos comes out ahead. I guess I prefer slightly stale curtido over too-fresh (i.e., freshly cut cabbage with just a hint of vinegar, which seems to be the norm at Zocalo). Guanacos' pupusas were definitely smaller than Zocalo's, and less leaden. But I wouldn't call them "pillowy," as San Jalisco's were described in one of the linked earlier threads.

    6 Replies
    1. re: waldito

      Glad to hear you found a potential replacement for El Zocalo-- they're selling the business to make room for an expansion of Emmy's Spaghetti Shack : http://bernalwood.wordpress.com/2014/...

      Oh no! I hope Los Planes were just on vacation or something (Los Planes isn't normally closed on Thursdays). They were open the previous weekend: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/987000

      1. re: waldito

        " It also served as an excuse to get them out of the Mission and Bernal."

        Do you mean out of "The Mission" into the REAL Mission?

        1. re: waldito

          Okay <<whew!>>, I can confirm as of 9/2/14 Los Planes De Renderos is still in business. Pupusas are still the best. 'Nuff said.

          1. re: waldito

            We just went back to El Zocalo when we heard about their retirement. Good to very-good pupusas, and a surprisingly good chicken enchilada with green sauce. The green sauce had some unusual taste notes. All spice? Nutmeg?

            But I agree on their curtido being too fresh -- I like it very vinegary.

            Waldito, do you go to Balompie #3 or Santaneca? How do you think they stack up?

            1. re: waldito

              Well, I'm glad they're not really closed. Sorry to exaggerate rumors of their demise. Maybe they were doing a deep cleaning, it had that 'closed for more than just tonight' look. Now I'll have to trek back out to the 'real' mission to take another shot.

              I'm not really a pupusa guy normally, so haven't been to Balompie or Santaneca. I keep meaning to go to Santaneca...I suppose I will when Zocalo closes. Most of my pupusa eating is when someone else at the table orders them. And usually that is at Zocalo, and usually I'm glad I can eat only half of one, as they simply feel too dense after a few bites.

              If the Excelsior is the 'real' Mission, does than mean it too will start to feel like the Marina in a decade? I hope not. Having said that, I had a table full of enjoyable items at Lolo in their new space the other day. I'm confident that I was the only one in the building with any sense of the basement's history as a punk club.

              1. re: waldito

                We tried a couple of pupusas at the Balompie Café on 18th in early November. While they were tasty, especially the cheese and loroco, they didn't have that ethereal crispiness that I remember from the ones at Santaneca. Something to do with rice flour, IIRC.

            2. Don Julio's Latin Grill U pupusas just opened in Rohnert Park. I thought the pupusas were excellent. Great slaw too.

              1. I have been eating pupusas sporadically for about ten years. They are a popular find at Manhattan street fairs. I actually ate one about three days ago at a Montreal street fair. For some reason, I have never seen one in an actual restaurant.

                I love anything made from corn and I love cheese in (almost) every form so this is an easy choice for me.

                The sauce is too watery for me and the slaw doesn't really add anything. So I just like to eat the pupusa itself. Maybe I will try one of the places in LA before I leave. I have probably never had a really great pupusa. Let me check and see what is close to my hotel.

                1 Reply
                1. re: t19103

                  For some reason, the sauce used with pupusas is usually terrible -- sort of like ketchup watered down with tomato soup. The curtido (slaw) is also highly variable. When it's good, it adds some texture and zing to the pupusa. When it's not (often) it's -- as you noted -- pointless. So don't automatically dismiss the option to eat the pupusa with the curtido.

                2. for those confined to options east of the bay bridge, Lupita's has a delicate touch with their pupusas. 3340 Foothill Blvd. (oaktown, betw. Coolidge and 34th ave.).

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: moto

                    In Oakland, Casa Jimenez had a surprisingly tasty, grease-free loroco pupusa. Curtido is pretty average.

                    Further south in Hayward, Pupuseria las Cabanas has nice pupusas (corn & rice) and a curtido with a little kick.

                    There's a Planes de Renderos in Hayward too. I haven't tried it yet. Is it related to the SF one?

                    There's a place in Richmond I like whose name escapes me ATM.

                    1. re: drewskiSF

                      Taqueria La Bamba, perhaps? The last time I ate there, admittedly over a year ago, I had a cheese and loroco paupsa and the chicharron one.

                      12345 San Pablo Ave, Richmond, CA 94805
                      (510) 235-2288

                      1. re: drewskiSF

                        Here's my post from a couple years ago on the pupusas I've tried in East Oakland. The problem I had with Casa Jimenez is that the curtido and sauce was spooned over my pupusa before it was served to me.
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8762...

                        I've wondered the same about Los Planes de Renderos in Hayward. I had ambitions of hitting it after my stop at Las Cabañas, but I really can't eat more than one pupusa in short order. ;)

                         
                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          In the Casa Jimenez restaurant, the salsa & curtido is served on the side.

                          Good amount of loroco in the pupusa. The curtido was heavy on the oregano, but not much else.

                           
                      2. re: moto

                        For what it's worth, I ordered Lupito's from Caviar delivery service a few months back and wasn't that impressed. Couldn't distnguish between the fillings as everything tasted the same to me and lacking flavor. I realize this is delivery so not a fair way to judge but I wouldn't do it again, in person or otherwise.

                        The pupusa's at Olivo's in the T-loin are pretty good. The only others I've had in the Bay Area were at the Latin American/Salvadoran place corner 16th and Valencia (crack corner) where the woman often cooks them fresh outside on a griddle. They're nothing special imo. I'm actually not certain that I'm a fan of pupusas because so far my experiences have all been pretty bland. I find them doughy and lacking in complexity (I realize it's simple rustic food). The vinegared cabbage is usually pretty bad; hard to describe but I often find it tastes like it's been tossed in an old gym sock. The pickled carrots and jalapenos are the only savior for me. The sauce is indeed usually thick and ketchupy. Perhaps I've never had a really great pupusa yet but until that day, I'm not overly fond of them.

                        1. re: OliverB

                          i'm surprised everything tasted the same. what types did you get?

                          Lupita's is my favorite in Oakland. my "go-to" there is the loroco.

                          btw, Lupita's (or their truck in the parking lot) is where Bourdain ate at on the SF "No Reservations"

                          1. re: drewskiSF

                            I don't remember but I ordered about 7 or 8 different kinds; both meat, chicken, and vegetarian for my wife. Maybe I should give it a shot in person? I'm just not that into pupusas, I don't think.

                            1. re: OliverB

                              understandable, in the larger context of our diverse food experiences and preferences. part of the process in the 'dish of the month' collaboration is learning how or why some things aren't suited for everyone. if someone only experienced the mainstream u.s. interpretation of pizza topped with tomato sauce, they could taste all the same too, whatever else went on top of them.

                              1. re: OliverB

                                Yeah, meat filling tends to be nondescript for me too, so I prefer to get vegetarian pupusas.

                                Take-out isn't very forgiving to pupusas --- they lose flavor as they steam in aluminum foil, and can get either mushy or rubbery.

                        2. The pupusas Pacita's in San Leandro are big, tasty and made to order with a bunch of options for fillings. They also make a huge pan con pollo and, on certain days, pastelitos de pollo (fried masa filled with chicken) served with same finely chopped curtido and mild red salsa as the pupusas. I have not yet tried any of the sweet bakery items but they look fabulous.
                          Las Pacita's Salvadorean Bakery
                          14750 E. 14th St.
                          San Leandro CA 94578

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: flavorenhancer

                            Thanks for the recommendation! This will now become part of our regular rotation. Delicious pupusas. The chicken sandwich also looked awesome. Excited for this new to us close to home gem. Looking forward to exploring the menu further.