Chelito’s Pupuseria offers an introduction to the Salvadorian kitchen
Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, present day El Salvador was home to numerous indigenous populations including the Maya, Lenca and Pipil peoples. Today’s Salvadorian menu has roots in these various cultures when corn, peppers, fruit, and cacao were local staples—and the menu at Chelito’s Pupuseria is no different.
We enjoyed a basket of unique tortilla chips which were thin and crisp with well-bubbled surfaces. We helped ourselves to smoky red salsa, tart tomatillo salsa and pico de gallo loaded with green chilies at the condiment bar.
Atol de Elote ($1.95) is a sweet porridge the color of cream of wheat. The flavor of fresh corn was evident in this puréed beverage of Mayan descent, which has been modernized with cinnamon sticks.
Pastelitos de Carne ($4.95), their thin masa jackets colored red by achiote seeds, were stuffed with ground meat. The three plump empanadas were fried to a crisp, golden brown and topped with sliced avocado.
The fat Tamal de Gallina ($2.25) was steamed in bright plantain leaves and served with tart sour cream. Thick masa, like moist cornbread, covered seasoned chicken, a firm spear of potato and bits of green beans.
Pupusas may be considered the national dish of El Salvador. Various ingredients are stuffed inside thick corn or rice dough tortillas for a purely portable snack. They are typically served with lightly pickled cabbage called curtido.
A thin layer of minced chicken, salty Parmesan-like cheese with a strong fermented flavor, and bits of flower buds from the loroco vine were found in the Pupusa de Pollo ($2.25). The tasty Pupusa Rebueltas ($2.35) held a purée of seasoned pork, black beans, cheese and loroco. The curtido was refreshing with flecks of red chilies.
Panes con Pavo ($7.95) is also popular. A football-shaped crisp-crusted loaf of soft bread included pulled turkey with ancient spices, and was loaded with crisp dressed vegetables including cauliflower and radish. It was served au jus with a big bowl of seasoned turkey broth, and deep-fried strings of cassava (yuca) root topped with curtido and tomato sauce.
Sopa de Gallina India ($9.95) is a traditional chicken soup. A bowl of thin broth was loaded with crisp autumn vegetables and served with a platter of dressed vegetable salad, roasted chicken leg, black beans, and cassava topped with curtido, shreds of chicharrón, a spiced pulled pork, and thick handmade corn tortillas.
From the list of Mexican specialties, a trio of Flautas ($8) was stuffed with longaniza, a Spanish sausage which was spiced similarly to Mexican linguisa but with more structure. It was topped with crumbly, mild-flavored queso fresco and green salsa, and served with excellently flavored casamiento, a dish of rice and still-firm black beans.
Pastel de Tres Leches ($2.25) is a famous dessert. Two layers of cake, separated by jelly filling were frosted with a thick layer of firm whipped cream. The bottom layer had absorbed the three milks – evaporated, condensed, and heavy cream – giving it an almost custard-like texture.
Chelito’s Pupuseria, 107 Leonard St. next to the Jury Room, Santa Cruz. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.