NBC 5's Food Guy Steve Dolinsky Food Guy kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month by looking at some Mexico City-style tacos in Little Village. Now, he’s on the hunt for a taste of El Salvador.
And that means pupusas.
He says some of the best in town are made each day by a group of women on Chicago's Southwest Side.
The wide, flat-top griddle, or plancha, is busy pretty much all day long at Pupuseria. The tiny café in the Clearing neighborhood, just West of Midway Airport, has a tight, compact menu, but nearly every table orders the namesake.
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“A pupusa is a tortilla – corn dough or rice dough – filled with a lot of different kinds of ingredients. But the main ingredient is cheese. It can be beans, pork, chicken, steak,” said Vanessa Leones, one of the managers at Pupuseria. “Classic pupusa is a revuelta – a mix of beans, cheese and pork.”
The masa dough is pretty wet and heavy – slapped with a bit of oil – but it allows the cooks to embed the chosen ingredients fairly easily. Then, in a process that takes about five seconds, but years to master, the dough is pressed up and around the fillings, surrounding them, but not to the point of breaking or tearing. The cooks do this without measuring or weighing. It’s all based on muscle memory, touch and feel.
“You have to be really detailed to make it. To weigh the dough and the ingredients so it comes out the perfect size,” said Leones.
Cooked on the plancha for just a few minutes per side, they’re pulled off when the outside is crisp and freckled with brown and black splotches. A trio of homemade salsas arrives alongside as well as curtido, a vinegary El Salvadorean coleslaw.
“We can put it in the pupusa or on the side," she added.
Save room for a slice of quesadilla.
A far cry from its Mexican relative, this quesadilla is really more of a cheese cake studded with sesame seeds on top.
“It’s like baked bread with cheese. Most of the people get it together with coffee in the morning,” said Leones.
The quesadilla is a must, actually, according to Dolinsky. All of the pupusas cost less than four bucks each. Pupuseria is about to open a second location about a mile east, closer to Marquette Park.
6533 W. 63rd St.
Opening in the next week:
Pupuseria Café #2
4322 W. Marquette Rd.