The pupusa joints I've visited for this month's exploration of one aspect of Salvadoran cuisine keep getting smaller as January progresses. The first, El Chalate on Colfax, had a decent-sized dining room with a number of Salvadoran and Mexican dishes and even featured an attached market. The second, Pupuseria San Salvador, had only four tables and a handwritten menu with no prices listed. Pupusas, a succinctly named trailer permanently parked behind a liquor store in Louisville, is the smallest yet, serving nothing but the stuffed and fried corn masa pockets that give the place its name, with only a couple of log stools as seating for those who'd rather dine al fresco than wolf pupusas in the car or suffer through a drive of any length with a tempting carton or two of the steaming treats spilling their aroma from the passenger seat.
If you don't live in Louisville, finding Pupusas is the first challenge; I learned the hard way not to trust any of the online mapping tools to get me within even a couple of miles of the place. After a few fruitless passes back and forth on South Boulder Road, I finally pulled into a parking lot and called the trailer's number to get directions. It turned out to be a wise move, since the mom and son who own Pupusas are more than happy to accept phone orders.
I placed my order and headed to the intersection of Highway 42 and South Boulder Road, keeping my eye out for Union Jack Liquors, the main business in the corner shopping center where the tiny, red Pupusas trailer has been located for the past six years. I was told my order would be ready in fifteen minutes, just the right amount of time to navigate through the many stoplights along a stretch of road that sees Lafayette blend into Louisville -- stopping once to grab some cash from an ATM.
My order, packaged in two styrofoam clamshells in plastic grocery bag, was ready when I arrived. As I waited for my change, I looked over the menu, painted on the back of an old snowboard -- two more salvaged snowboards serve as the counter at the order window and the pupusa bar where you can eat while perched on one of those rough-hewn log stools. In addition to the loroco (an edible tropical flower bud) and pork pupusas I ordered, there were also chicken, zucchini, bean, revuelto (pork, beans and cheese) and a few other options -- including pepperoni. I'm generally a fan of culinary cultural mash-ups -- Sonoran hot dogs, wonton-wrapped rellenos, banh mi sandwiches, to name a few -- but I'm still searching for great versions of traditional Salvadoran pupusas, so I didn't mind missing out on the pepperoni this time.
Back in my car, I attempted to sample a loroco pupusa, but the big, floppy disk was so hot off the griddle that I could barely pick it up, much less stuff any of it into my mouth. Mimicking the Salvadorans I observed at my previous stops, I tore off bits of the pupusa and used them to grab pinches of curtido. The tart slaw held just the right amount of bright heat from slivers of raw jalapeño mixed in with the cabbage. A chunky, tomato-based salsa also helped bring the molten cheese down to an edible temperature.
The cheese was definitely plentiful -- hot, stringy and gooey, with caramelized bits where it had oozed out of its corn shell onto the griddle surface. The pork filling was mild and tender and was used more as a flavoring than a main ingredient; the white cheese inside the pork pupusas took on an orange tint from the seasoned juices and fat of the meat. The texture of the loroco was similar to tiny asparagus tips, with an earthy, vegetal flavor somewhere between canned green beans and artichoke hearts. Fresh loroco is very difficult to come by in Denver, so the filling in these pupusas was likely from frozen or canned buds. It's worth trying, though, and adds just a hint of flavor and texture to the sheer volume of cheese.
When a cook makes only one thing all day, every day, it's almost guaranteed that the result is going to be good. Hand-made pupusas patted out fresh for each order are a simple comfort food from another culture, the equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich with tender corn dough instead of white bread. If I lived any closer to Boulder's eastern suburbs, I'd be a regular at the tiny pupusa stand, perhaps furtively sipping a cold beer from the liquor store while eating my scalding hot lunch in a tree-shaded corner of a parking lot in a small town that's lucky to have such a delightful street-food option.