The closure of La Orquidea—a destination for those seeking a taste of Honduras—left the Bronx without a top-flight pupasería. (Though come September, you can find them at the annual Honduran Independence Festival.) But there is another papusa worth the trip, this time farther uptown, by way of Soundview's Pupasería Salvadoreño.
Native to El Salvador, pupusas are kind of like a Central American calzone: nixtamalized (corn soaked in an alkaline solution) tortillas stuffed with a savory filling that's soft to the chew. Salvadoreño, an eight table outfit dug gently into the ground, makes theirs fresh to order, with nixtamalized masa imported from El Salvador.
Eight fillings are available in combinations of cheese, beans, fried pork rinds, chicken, jalapenos, and loroco (an herbal-tasting flower that grows on vines). Each order comes with two salsas and a bowl of curdito, a salad of lightly fermented cabbage, which is boiled and then tossed with vinegar, grated carrots, and oregano.
The tortillas have a crisp, slightly charred shell that hides a doughier interior; they emanate enticing wafts of fried corn. That said, they're light on oil, with no grease to bog you down. As is traditional, the cheese in question here is quesillo, an unripened, elastic cheese that sports a mild flavor. It serves as a forgiving canvas and oozes out of the torn tortillas.
Intriguing as it may be, the loroco here is too mild in flavor to be picked up on. The cheese and jalapeno was much more exciting, as the chile's flavor infused into the cheese. But even better, and more substantial to boot, was the bean and cheese: warm and comforting, the molten cheese playfully weaves in and out of the purple bean paste.
The chicken and cheese (a different variety than quesillo), is surprisingly flavorful, and the meat was most notably moist. But the straight chicharrones, which draw you in with the alluring scent of pork fat, will make you forget all about tacos—even if only for a second. Cooked with onions, garlic, herbs, the pork bursts with flavor. It gets a bit lost when mixed in with the cheese, so it's best eaten solo.
Rounding out the menu are sopes ($9-12), tamales ($2-6), meat and rice dishes ($8-12), and two varieties of Salvadorian ceviche: concha and shrimp ($12). Served with crackers for dipping, the shrimp ceviche tastes a good deal like a citrus-spiked gazpacho. It's thickened with ketchup and packed with shrimp, chunks of tomato, white onion, avocado, and snipped cilantro. There's just a pinch of heat, courtesy of the salsa piquante, but it's more background noise then anything else. The sweetness of fruits, a tug of war between the tomato and lime, comes through strongest.
From the awning to the tablecloths, Salvadoreño flaunts its colors with unabashed pride. The low wood paneled walls, a colorful painting of a street vendor hawking pupusas and tamales, and the juke box's catalogue of pop invoke the aesthetic of an old school pizza parlor with irrepressible Latin flair. Brimming with warmth, it's the kind of place where friends erupt in table-shaking laughter and abuelas gather with their nietos. It's comforting to the core, and the food is worth the trek.
1248 Saint Lawrence Ave, Bronx, NY 10472 (map) 718-409-4013