Slice of El Salvador
By Bill Gerdes
Pupusa—say it with me slowly kids—pu-pu-sa. It’s a fun word, a sexy word and, yes, a delicious one. Hell, I’ll say it again, pu-pu-sa. It’s a word designed to screw up spell-checks, confound those looking for macho-combo burritos, and generally send taste-buds salivating in search of the Salvadorian treats, the country’s standout culinary star.
Pupusas themselves are saucer-shaped corn tortillas filled with a hefty selection of ingredients on the inside. Many feature frijoles, cheese and a variety of meat, very often pork ground down to a paste. They’re a simple food, but when done well achieve an easy elegance that suggests the easygoing beauty of El Salvador itself. And while not as ubiquitous as your local taco shack, we’ve got some tasty El Salvadorian restaurants in the area. There’s the simply named Pupuseria in La Sierra, El Chalet Salvadoreno in Fontana and, perhaps the best of the bunch, Pupuseria Miguelenas in Rubidoux.
And a quick note on Rubidoux—this is both the California culture and cuisine of the future—a veritable wet-nightmare for Pat Buchanan/Michelle Bachman/any vaguely racist terribly- frightened white person, plus Herman Cain, over the age of 40. Rubidoux is Part Mexico, part Central America, Part African-American, with a smidge of Okie along with a pet hospital—and Pupuseria Miguelenas.
The place has a great kitschy feel—the counter looks like it was designed by John Waters, circa Pink Flamingoes—with tons of ceramic Hello Kitty-style junk, and it’s the first thing one notices till that whiff of frying maize hits the nostrils. Blood pressures drop in a place like Pupuseria Miguelenas. Minds relax and wander in a place that seemingly plays songs only from 1985 and has, blessedly, Coca Cola from Mexico, corn-syrup free and all that. The espinica con queso pupusa contains more white brilliantly melted cheese than spinach, but that’s fine, due to the just perfectly cooked maize little saucers. The queso con pollo versions are even better, with juicy strips of white chicken simmering in the grease and cheese. Grease here is a compliment by the way, just enough to be great comfort food, not too greasy as to be gross.
I topped both pupusas off with generous heapings of curtido, the pickled cabbage relish that normally accompanies pupusas. It’s a delicately spicy mixture that goes perfectly with the fried maize saucers, and the version here at Miguelenas is lovingly balanced with touches of sweet and spicy. The fried plantains with crema are also nicely prepared here, the inherent sweetness of the plantains contrasting nicely with the sourness of the cream. They’ve also got a Mexican menu, limited and challenging parking, and occasionally quite large crowds. Miguelenas is a chaotic and delicious slice of El Salvador in the shadow of Mt. Rubidoux.
Pupuseria Miguelenas, 5310 Mission Blvd., Riverside, (951) 682-4054. Sun-Sat, 8AM-8PM. MC, V.