Unpretentious, nondescript, the kind of place people think of when they want the “real deal” or a “hole in the wall” eatery that only the locals know about. Located right across the street from the Sonoma County Fairgrounds at 1403 Maple Ave. in Santa Rosa, Pupuseria Salvadorena dish up the exotic ingredients of Central American and Mayan culture.
It’s a family atmosphere. The bare essentials give it a down to earth vibe with walls decorated by maps of El Salvador, flags and scenic photographs of the country’s landscape. A view from the front desk gives you a tiny glimpse of a grassroots kitchen where ladies are warming and shaping masa together for one of the restaurant’s most acclaimed plates.
Authentic El Salvadorian comfort food is mostly known for their pupusas. An imperfectly circled, chubby tortilla made from cornmeal and stuffed with anything from cheese to refried beans, squash and chicharron. Every pupusa is served with a side of cabbage and three different salsas to choose from, all pouring from what looks like syrup containers. Make no mistake, you’re not doing it right if you’re aren’t drenching these with all four side ingredients. There are multiple varieties to choose from on the menu, and it should be noted that a little goes a long way. Pupusas will fill you up, and even better, they’re no more than $3 a piece.
There’s something that feels so new and exciting about ordering from a menu that’s not in your first language, in fact, this is a great environment to practice your Spanish. Don’t get confused when that enchilada you ordered is served open-faced made with a hard-shell tortilla topped with shredded chicken, potatoes, carrots, green beans, cheese and avocado. The crispy tortillas are presented with toppings as opposed to fillings compared to enchiladas you would see at a Mexican restaurant. Delicious nonetheless and makes for quite a tasty and spontaneous adventure.
Attracting foodies, locals, students and families alike, the menu, although in Spanish, has some English translation for the dishes themselves. The menu is categorized by “Antojitos Salvadoreños” or “Salvadorian Specialties” which is where newcomers are suggested to ponder before ordering - this also includes empanadas, tamales and “pasteles” or pastries listed after the pupusa varieties. “Sopas/Soup”, “Speciales/Specials”, and “Desayunos/Breakfast” are certainly worth exploring if perhaps you’ve had pupusas before and are feeling a little adventurous. Mayan and El Salvadorian cuisine typically use ingredients like corn, plantains, masa, refried beans, pork and loroco which is a native edible flower indigenous to Mexico and Central America especially in Guatemala and El Salvador.
The stars of the show are definitely the pupusas, which also offer a selection of vegetarian options as other frequently used Central American ingredients include squash and spinach. This establishment has been around for over 10 years, and it’s no small wonder why. Still one of Sonoma County’s best kept secrets, this is not the kind of place where you get your food within five minutes of ordering, and for a good reason. Every single plate ordered is being made from scratch, and it is obvious.
Definitely, if you’re in the mood to try something new on a budget, this is where you can treat yourself. First timers should try their “pupusa de chicharron, queso y frijoles” (pork, cheese, and beans), “pupusa y loroco”, and “pupusa, calabaza y espinaca” (cheese, squash and spinach).
Humble and slightly tucked away, Pupuseria Salvadorena is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m and guests are able to order food to go of course. However, you definitely get the full cultural experience if you dine in.