Pupusas are griddled corn cakes that are thick like a pancake. And stuffed. And also happen to be the national dish of El Salvador. The Salvadoran pupusa is a lot like what the taco is to Mexico or the arepa is to Venezuela and Colombia. Pupusas, however, are larger and flatter than arepas and are made with masa harina (nixtamalized corn flour). They are stuffed with goodness like quesillo, beans, and chicharrón, then cooked and served enclosed rather than open. Moist, soft, fluffy, cheesy... we’ll get a room.
Pupusas might call for a fork-and-knife if they’re super stuffed, but by all means, do as the Salvadorans do and rip it with your hands, snatch a bit of curtido (a fermented, tart Salvadoran cabbage slaw), and a quick swipe of mild-to-spicy Salvadoran tomato sauce (salsa roja or salsa de tomate) that’s traditionally served alongside it. Alternatively, eat it like you would a slice of pizza. There’s no wrong way to eat one, so long as it makes it to your mouth.
So now that you have pupusa knowledge, here are the nine best places in New York City to get them.
Salvatoria is a go-to for Salvadoran food in Astoria (and in The Before Times, a super lively bar), but is most well-known for their variety of pupusas, which range from traditional fillings to more playful options. Amongst the 18 different versions on the menu are the more standard queso y frijol (cheese and bean) and espinaca (spinach). But if you’re looking for something different, there’s the “Pupusaroni” with cheese and pepperoni and the “Pupusa Loca” with shrimp, chicken, cheese, chicharrón, and beans. All served with spicy tomato salsa and curtido.
Wedged between a law office and a dollar store in East Williamsburg are the pillow-soft pupusas from Bahía. Highly recommended are the revueltas stuffed with pork, refried beans, and cheese, served with curtido and tomato sauce. Bahía also offers pupusas loroco, an edible wildflower with a green, nutty taste combined with cheese. But there are 10 different options at $2.50 apiece, so lots of room for trial and error to see what suits you best.
Ricas started off as a small flat-top grill outside La Luz del Mundo in Jackson Heights to help raise funds for the church. As the lines and demand grew, the brick-and-mortar version of Ricas Pupusas & Mas was born. Run by Salvadoreñas and mother-and-daughter team Maria Ramirez and Irma Vargas, Ricas serves pupusas de arroz (or rice flour pupusas) in addition to corn. While just a smidge plainer than the corn variety, they’re crunchier and a bit browner when cooked. The cheese and revuelta make the menu for both rice and flour versions, alongside loroco and chilipín, a cousin to spinach or watercress.
Get a cheese pupusa (the bean and cheese is also a good call) sans curtido and sauce, pair it with a horchata and call it breakfast. But seriously, the fluffy stacks-on-stacks of pupusas here give IHOP a run for their money. At one point they even had a sign underneath their awning that said “La Casa de Pupusas” or “The House of Pupusas.” There’s loroco and chilipín here too. If you feel like going real savory, ask for some sour cream along with your curtido and tomato sauce. Sort of like a blini, minus the caviar.
Blazing in Salvadoran blue, Pupusería Salvadoreña takes the spice level up a few notches with their queso y jalapeño pupusa. PS — a pupusería is a place that sells pupusas. As someone who doesn’t enjoy super spicy food, these hit just right. Plus, the pupusas here in general are on the larger side, so you may be good with just one or two.
Come for the pupusas, stay for the platos tipícos. The pupusa de pollo is their number one option, but you can score big time and get their combo platter that includes that and their Salvadoran-style carne asada (made with house rub and chimol, a spicy tomato salsa) and sweet corn or chicken and olive tamal - just to make sure you’re not missing out. It’s just south of the Cloisters, so you could snag a pupusa to go while you check out the sites. But you’ll probably be too distracted by the fluffy corn delight you have in your hands to notice much else.
Mi Paso Centroamericano
Well, if you’re already in Washington Heights checking out La Cabaña Salvadoreña, you might as well make it a pupusa spree and pop into Mi Paso. The usual suspects and the rice flour version all make appearances on the menu, but what caught my eyes was the carrot and cheese pupusa (zanahoria y queso). I’ve never paired a carrot with cheese on purpose, but these geniuses thought of it and you’ll be glad they did. It’s sort of like the savory incarnation of a carrot cake - and I’m someone who loves a carrot cake. It works.
Mi Pequeño El Salvador, née Tierras Salvadoreña, is a solid pupusería in Jackson Heights. They have a tight pupusa menu with the typical cheese, beans, spinach loroco, chicharrón, and revueltas, but also a couple of rice flour varieties. Right now, I’m digging the pupusa queso con ayote a.k.a. cheese and zucchini.
The Pupusa Cart @ 167th Street And Grand Concourse
There’s a street vendor, an incredibly sweet señora, on 167th street in front of the B and D trains who is always dressed in all black. Her carrito has no name and you’ll probably see some kids stopping by here after school. If they don’t have money to pay her that day, she’ll ask, “Are you doing well in school? I will give you a pupusa, but you better graduate.” You can usually find her on weekdays from late morning through the afternoon. Sometimes she isn’t there, but it’s worth taking the chance for a near-perfect cheese pupusa prepared on the spot and a warm smile.