I like to describe pupusas as the Salvadoran cousins of Mexican sopes. Except that instead of toppings piled atop the fried corn dough the way sopes are served, grilled pupusas come stuffed with gooey queso, slow-cooked pork or shredded squash. Sometimes all three.
In El Salvador, they’re a national delicacy so prolific, pupusas have their own holiday (the second Sunday in November).
I spied a sign announcing a new Salvadoran restaurant, Las Delicias, a few weeks ago in East Tacoma, the same neighborhood that’s home to my favorite three Tacoma taquerias (Taqueria El Grande, Taqueria El Rinconsito and Tacos Guaymas).
I stopped in for a quick first bite of the restaurant’s pupusas. I also checked back in on the only other pupuseria in Pierce County, El Pulgarcito, which has two locations in Lakewood.
806 72nd St. E., Tacoma; 253-267-9844.
Las Delicias opened in early August in the strip-mall location that held the short-lived El Sol, which morphed earlier this year from a restaurant called Mariscos Sinaloa.
Were these the same owners of the former El Sol sit-down Mexican restaurant? The dining room appeared nearly identical to its previous occupant, down to the artwork. Our server assured that the restaurant was the first for its owners, who had moved in two weeks prior.
Las Delicias listed a hybrid Salvadoran-Mexican menu with made-to-be-eaten-quickly Salvadoran food as a specialty.
The Salvadoran side of the menu listed pastelitos, something like empanadas, and the stuffed sandwich called panes rellenos. Salvadoran staple yuca, served fried, also was listed. On the Mexican side of the menu, find torta sandwiches, quesadillas and several meat-based dishes, as well as a small list of soups and chilled seafood dishes.
Pupusa aficionados will appreciate pupusas made with both rice ($2.50 each) and corn doughs ($2 each) at Las Delicias. The rice dough (order as “arroz”) was stickier and with a heartier chew and more mild flavor; while the corn dough (order as “masa”) offered an easier texture and a nutty thump of grilled corn dough.
One of the pleasures of eating a pupusa is cracking into the crunchy dough to unleash an oozy river of cheese, meat and vegetables. Las Delicias was no disappointment there. The pupusas were discs about the size of street tacos, served hot off the grill.
One rice pupusa was filled with diced loroco, a Central American herb that tastes something like a nutty squash. The revueltas corn pupusa was stuffed with a thick layer of slow-cooked pork, a smear of beans and melted cheese that glued the disc together.
The pupusas, as is the case with most pupuserias, were served with curtido, which typically is a fermented cabbage spiked with oregano, but the curtido here was a simple shredded cabbage salad with no dressing and little flavor.
If you order anything beyond pupusas, make it the Salvadoran empanadas called pastelitos ($5.99), a trio of turnovers made with a red-hued flour dough, stuffed with shredded chicken and served with a lime-dressed cabbage and tomato condiment.
12134 Pacific Highway SW, Lakewood; 253-582-5173.
8534 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood; 253-582-2212.
4509 Lacey Blvd. SE, Lacey; 360-491-4068.
It’s been remarkable to watch the expansion of the Salvadoran-Mexican restaurant and pupuseria, El Pulgarcito. The restaurant started as a tiny pupuseria on Pacific Highway Southwest in Lakewood, but soon doubled its space in the same strip mall. Then, the restaurant duplicated twice, with one outpost in Lacey followed by the 2014 opening of its South Tacoma Way restaurant.
The specialty here is pupusas, but the restaurant also serves a host of Salvadoran and Mexican dishes, including breakfast.
Pupusas are $2.50 each and are listed as made with only masa dough, but you can go big and order four for $8.95. Ours arrived marked brown from the hot grill, loaded with steamy pork and melted cheese that spilled out of the crunchy corn dough. One pupusa held shredded zucchini and gooey cheese; another was a cheesy tangle of diced loroco. One pork-filled pupusa came with beans and cheese (revuelta) and the other with pork and cheese (chicharron con queso).
Served with the pupusas was that snappy cabbage condiment, curtido, served chilled and punctuated with earthy oregano and a few slivers of jalapenos.
If you order anything else here, make it the carne guisada, a thick beef stew ($12.50).
Tip: Next door to El Pulgarcito, a sign has just gone up announcing San Rafael Bakery. The empty bakery appears to be in the middle of a complete makeover.