Give me less than five miles and 15 minutes, and I’ll show you pupusa heaven.
From a dirt lot on Llano Street to a spot just off bustling Rodeo Road to a Cerrillos Road parking lot best known for a seasonal produce stand, some of the best destinations for Salvadoran cuisine exist in a rough triangulation of top-notch Santa Fe food trucks.
Cuisine from El Salvador is wide-ranging, making ample use of maize, pork and seafood, but its most famous dish is the pupusa, a hearty handmade griddled patty usually made from cornmeal and stuffed with a variety of fillings. And while each of the three food trucks I visited — La Loncherita Salvadoreña, Pupuseria Y Lonchera La Providencia and La Esperanza — offered totally different menus, the pupusas took center stage.
I started my journey at La Loncherita Salvadoreña, a little blue truck with a white stripe evoking the El Salvador flag that sits on Llano Street just a couple blocks off St. Michael’s Drive. They do one thing and one thing only: cash-only pupusas, and boy, do they do them well. I paid $5.50 for two, one zucchini and cheese and one revuelta, which comes with chicharrón, beans, cheese and loroco (a flower bud native to the El Salvador region). Worth noting: Salvadoran chicharrón is finely shredded, seasoned pork, not the fried pork you’ll find on many Mexican menus.
The pupusas here are huge and served blazing hot, with obsessively good griddled cheese bits forming crisp, lacy edges in certain spots. On the side, you’ll get a tomato salsa and curtido, a lightly fermented and spiced cabbage slaw, traditional pupusa accompaniments served at all three of the food trucks I visited. One of these pupusas would make a satisfying lunch, and your only challenge is waiting for it to cool to an appropriate hand-holding temperature.
Next up was Pupuseria Y Lonchera La Providencia, the hard-to-miss blue truck on Rodeo Road near its intersection with Cerrillos Road. But it was unexpectedly closed during my first visit, which is why next time I called ahead with my order — I recommend using the phone numbers listed with this column to check if a truck is open before you make a special trip.
So I journeyed on to La Esperanza, a truck I’d spotted next to the seasonal and very popular Peach Valley Produce stand on Cerrillos near Siler Road. The lime green truck offers a mix of breakfast items, Salvadoran fare and Mexican dishes. Here, pupusas are $2.50 to $2.75 and come in more than a half-dozen vegetarian and nonvegetarian options. My chicharrón and loroco pupusas were smaller and thicker but just as satisfying; the real surprise here, though, was the large menu’s flavorful variety.
The pollo a la plancha ($12.50) with handmade tortillas, rice, refried beans, pico de gallo and a grilled jalapeño, was some of the best-seasoned chicken I’ve had in Santa Fe. I’d take the soft, pleasing torta Salvadoreña ($12) with carne asada over most American hamburgers any day; it came with each half individually wrapped, perfect for sharing or splitting for later. And the large melon-forward agua fresca hit just the right sweet note without being cloying.
I rounded out my pupusa trifecta a few days later with a stop at Pupuseria Y Lonchera La Providencia, where two groups ate lunch on the covered picnic tables outside. The pupusas here ($2.50 each) were more similar to those at La Esperanza; again, I savored the rich heartiness of the beans and chicharrón in one, but found the loroco variety to be lighter and almost brightly pleasing.
La Providencia serves more Salvadoran classics, including the fried yuca frita and pastelitos de pollo, which were sold out when I arrived. The plátanos refritos ($6.65), or deep-fried plantains, were perfectly cooked, with sides of savory crema and refried beans. The tacos al pastor ($8), which might strike a more familiar chord for some first-time visitors, balanced the pork and pineapple sweetness with generous slices of avocado, onion, cilantro and a spicy red sauce.
Where to visit when? I’d hit up La Esperanza for breakfast (in addition to a breakfast burrito and huevos rancheros, you can choose the Desayuno Salvadoreño for $10, which comes with eggs, plantains, beans and crema, or to sample a variety of well-cooked dishes. For a smaller but more traditional Salvadoran menu, head for the popular La Providencia.
And for an inexpensive, crave-worthy meal? I’m already looking forward to boosting a bad day or celebrating a good day or just elevating a run-of-the-mill day with a few bucks and a few minutes’ wait at La Loncherita.
In a town abundant with culinary blessings, I’m giving thanks for our little corner of pupusa heaven.