Pupusas are El Salvador's answer to casual, cheap, easy eating. Handmade with masa or nixtamal, they're stuffed with your choice of filling, maybe cheese, chicharrón (shredded or ground pork), bean, loroco (a vine flower that tastes similar to squash blossoms) or a combination called revuelta or mixta. The flattened cakes are cooked on a griddle until the cheese melts and the masa cooks gets toasted on the outside. They're served with a hot sauce and a house curtido, a lightly fermented slaw made with cabbage, chiles and vinegar. Hungry yet?
Since pupusas are made to order, they aren't fast food. Kick back and wait for the handmade stuffed patties to appear in front of you. The variations among pupuserias are subtle, but when you bite into a well-made pupusa, you'll know the difference. Here are five pretty great ones to try.
Los Molcajetes — Although there are a few locations of this pupuseria, the original Westlake location has the best pupusas. It looks like it hasn't changed since the day it opened. The service will be slow. The abuela will be in no hurry to take your order. It may feel like an eternity until the food arrives — and there's nothing in the way of décor or ambiance — but it's worth the wait. The pupusas are perfectly cooked, with the cheese oozing out and browned on the edges. The curtido has a light tang with just the right smattering of red chile and carrot shreds. Various locations including 1800 W. 8th Street, Los Angeles, (213) 388-8994.
Los Cocos — Tucked inside a strip mall off Centinela, Los Cocos is your best bet for pupusas on the Westside. A panaderia and pupuseria, it has fewer than a handful of tables for dining. The thick, hearty pupusas are cheap (each are $2 or less) and served with two kinds of curtidos — one more traditional, another made with purple cabbage. Since you're dining in a bakery, it's hard to resist a bit of dessert afterwards. 4804 1/2 S. Centinela Ave, Los Angeles, (310) 636-1043, loscocos.wix.com/pupusas
Atlacatl — Right on the edge of Koreatown and East Holllywood, this sit-down pupuseria serves Salvadoran goodies from a converted house. For over 20 years, they've been making their pupusas from the same corner, just north of Beverly. They do a brisk takeout business and give you a giant jar of curtido for your self-serving pleasure. Be warned that it can get really crowded, parking is rough, and it's cash-only. 301 N. Berendo St. #E-5, Los Angeles, (323) 663-1404.
Sarita's — Located in the middle of Grand Central Market, they've been serving the owner's family recipes at the same location for years. If you're lucky enough to snag one of the handful of seats at the counter, you can watch the señora make the pupusas right there on the griddle in front of you. Their pupusas are plump and generous with a variety of stuffing options, including the usual and the unusual, like shrimp and jalapeño. Their curtido has extra chile flakes, but still has the tangy cabbage flavor you want. 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 626-6320.
Comedor Bella — You know you've come to the right place when all the surrounding tables are full, and everyone is eating pupusas. They have over a dozen filling combinations, and none of their pupusas cost more than $2.50. Their curtido is perfectly light, but served in a tiny ramekin. Don't be shy about asking for more, if you can catch the waitress' eye. They also have a full Salvadoran menu, including some pretty amazing sopes. 1570 W. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 294-0201.