It’s comforting as you’re waiting for the pupusas you just ordered at a neighborhood Salvadoran joint to hear the slap, slap, slap of hands smacking masa into fat, tortilla-shaped discs. Your mouth starts watering, knowing the corn dough is being patted around the savory filling, and about to be tossed onto a sizzling griddle.
At Pupuseria del Valle, customers stream in on Tuesdays and Fridays for the $1 pupusas. Though, really, at less than two bucks on a regular day, the price is still right. A traditional Salvadoran food cooked for centuries, the pupusa (poo-POO-sah) can be filled with cheese, refried beans, a mixture of refried beans and pork, and much more. These three varieties are offered for the $1 deal.
Pupuseria del Valle’s versions are just as they’re supposed to be: masa crisp on the outside, soft on the inside with flavor bursting from the fillings. The above-mentioned three are all satisfying, and it feels like I’m ripping off the owner when I pay him the low price. The cheese is stretchy and tangy. The revuelto, with refried beans, cheese and pork, is a favorite. The queso con calabacitas mixes perfectly gooey cheese with the clean, earthy taste of Italian squash. Queso con loroco infuses the cheese filling with the fantastic edible Salvadoran flower loroco. Minced, it looks closest to green bell pepper, but gives a sharper, more interesting flavor.
Pupuseria del Valley’s curtido, the traditional accompaniment of a vinegary slaw of cabbage, onion and carrot, is tart, sweet and crisp. The red sauce offers a savory touch of heat.
Chicken soup is a rich, delicious homemade broth, with slices of carrot and potato and other vegetables floating near the bottom. If you’re looking for chunks of chicken, you won’t find any. It’s broth and the vegetables, a light and comforting lunch, especially paired with a pupusa.
Pastelitos de pollo — handmade fried turnovers on the appetizer menu — are stuffed with shredded chicken, beautifully browned, crisp and addictive.
The yuca frita con chicharrones, deep fried yucca with fried pork skin, was a mixed experience. The chunks of pork (which appeared to be meat, not the skin) were so dry and brittle they reminded me of freeze-dried food used by backpackers or astronauts. But the fat fingers of yucca (think steak fries on steroids) were tasty, dipped in red sauce or smothered with curtido.
On the entree side of the menu, the accompaniments made much more of an impression than the main events. The fried chicken seemed to have been tossed in a deep frier with no breading and little seasoning. It came out oily and unappealing. The chorizo, fat little grilled sausages, disappointed. Where was the spiciness that gives chorizo its punch? But we gobbled up the ful, flavorful rice that comes with the main dishes and the salad of mixed greens with a ranch-style dressing tasted fresh and crisp. And the smooth lake of refried pinto beans was the best I’ve had. Maybe that’s why the pupusas with beans are so smashing.
The restaurant, situated across Victory Boulevard from a tire shop and smog-certification spot, is spare, clean and decorated with art from and a map of El Salvador. The owner is thinking of adding Indian appetizers to the menu, from a Burbank chef who’s tired of his commute to a southern L.A. County eatery. The samples on display were delicious. And the idea just might put Pupuseria del Valle on the map as the area’s only Salvadoran-Indian restaurant. Even if it doesn’t, it’s on my map, for the pupusas and the slap, slap, slap that proceeds them.
Pupuseria del Valle
431 S. Victory Blvd. Burbank, (818) 524-2100
M-F 10 a.m. - 8 a.m.; Sat 9 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Appetizers $1.90 - $4.50; pupusas $1.95; main dishes, including soups, $7.99 - $9.49; breakfast $4.50 - $5
REBECCA BRYANT is a freelance writer who’s written for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Caribbean Travel & Life and other publications.