The first time I ate a pupusa was when our landscaper/friend Oscar came over for a party at my family's house back in Alameda in 1999. We were throwing a barbeque and Oscar brought a huge batch of his girlfriend's fantastic homemade pupusas, showing us and our guests how to prepare it with just the right amount of tart cabbage slaw and salsa. Gutsy and satisfying, the flavors were familiar but the context was new. It was my first taste of Salvadoran food and I was hooked...
Fast forward to 2007 and I've moved to Seattle, where tiny pockets of culinary possibility are everywhere... many in the form of roving taco trucks. But in this case, I'm talking about a taco truck that serves crazy good pupusas, parked on the front lawn of the owner's house, no less! Ever since I read this bit out of the Seattle Weekly by J. Kaufmann (a true taco truck bandit whose reviews I used to follow back in his days at the East Bay Express) I've been wanting to try Maria's.
But first, a momentary detour to the Salvadoran Bakery in White Center, which consistently gets impressive marks on Yelp for its pupusas, tamales and baked goods. People go absolutely crazy over their tres leches cake: layers of sponge cake soaked in three types of milk (one of which is sweetened condensed milk).
The pupusas were pretty good... fried to order and pretty sizeable -- like 4 inches in diameter. But they were missing something... they weren't quite crispy enough on the exterior and the filling didn't really strike a chord. As for the tres leches cake... it just wasn't my thing. Super sugary and super soggy. In fact, all of our treats at the Salvadoran Bakery were missing one thing: texture.
In contrast, texture is the best part of the pupusas at Maria's. Sure, the filling of tender seasoned pork, deliciously unctuous beans and melting cheese is pretty fantastic; the slaw has a great fresh crunch with just enough piquancy; and the salsa comes in whatever gradient of spiciness you want.
But the thing that makes Maria's pupusas so crushingly delicious is their magical texture. The fried exterior is crispy and slightly chewy at the same time; the interior is pillowy soft, marrying perfectly with the filling. An inspiring union of flavor and texture... for $2 each, made to order, piping hot, and served with an engaging combination of warmth and pride. Total euphoria. I don't claim to be an expert in Salvadoran food, but it's hard to imagine a pupusa being any more delicious.
Winner: Maria's, by a long shot. How awesome that it's only a couple of miles away.
Tacos Patzcuaro (Maria's)
8303 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S.