Big Fat Pupusas at El Salvador Restaurant in San Francisco

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

My temporary home in San Francisco's Mission district is known more for its abundance of tacos and burritos than its Salvadoran fare, but there's certainly plenty of it around, some of it quite good.

Where Mexico has its tacos, El Salvador has its pupusas. At El Salvador Restaurant, the pupusas are cheap, big, and made fresh by hand. Place an order, and a minute later you'll start hearing the rhythmic slapping as the lady in the kitchen starts flattening out a ball of corn masa stuffed with cheese and finely chopped chicharrones into a wide, flat disk before slipping it onto a hot griddle. Just like with good grilled cheese, the key here is low, slow heat so that the interior fillings melt completely just as the exterior becomes nicely toasted. Like wide, flat hot pockets, if you will, only much, much better.

Pre-formed pupusas have a tendency to be oily or stale on the exterior, but the ones here come out soft, pliant, nicely toasted, and completely grease-free—until you cut them open and unleash the pork and cheese within, that is (they're also available in a zucchini or rice-stuffed version). On the side you'll find a small bowl of lightly pickled cabbage curtido, and a bright tomato salsa. For five bucks, it's a pretty filling lunch.