From the South Shore to Huntington Station and the East End, every neighborhood seems to have a Latino deli or a homestyle restaurant serving pupusas, the irresistible corn masa cakes.
Stuffed with melted cheese or something more meaty and savory, the pupusa is the pride and national dish of El Salvador. The hearty patties can also be found across Central America and are also staple dish in Guatemala and Honduras.
"It’s our pizza. It’s genuinely bigger over there than anything else," says Thomas Torres of the famed La Tapachulteca in Hempstead. His grandparents founded the supermarket chain in El Salvador, and Torres says he only hires skilled "plancheras" or pupusa makers for his kitchen. "It’s just part of the culture over there in El Salvador. Everybody’s main course is pupusas."
At the core, pupusas are designed to offer a good bang for your buck. Usually made with the industrialized corn masa flour Maseca (although they can be prepared with rice flour as well), pupusas can be served for any meal and any occasion, from breakfast to birthdays. Paired with a mild tomato sauce and a zippy vegetable curtido slaw, pupusas are simple and accessible to all.
But with so many options, where do you go? Here are a few good bets, with some recommendations on which fillings to order.
Morenitas Deli, Riverhead
122 Griffing Ave. #3007
With its substantial Guatemalan population, Riverhead may just be the pupusa capital of New York. Morenitas is a small but lively restaurant tucked into a parking lot off the main street. Owned by Erica Morales since 2018, the spot specializes in seafood dishes from Puerto Barrios, Izabal on the Gulf of Honduras. That means they serve pupusas with shrimp as well as fillings like chicharron and the winter squash ayote. The bean and cheese pupusa ($2.50) has a thick corn masa dough that's grilled to a hearty crackle. So hot it sears your fingers, it's homey and yet flawlessly textured … even fiercer with a touch of that green Picamas, a Guatemalan hot sauce made from pure jalapeño peppers.
More info: 631-369-0840. Another location at 1495 Montauk Hwy. Suite 1, Mastic. 631-276-2679. Open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
219 Nassau St.
With only a few tables and a TV playing news in Spanish, the tiny spot offers a stunning variety of dishes from across Central America. The shop has been going strong for 38 years, but much of that is due to owner Rina Lizama's artful approach to the dishes of her native El Salvador. She prepares pupusas ($3) from rice flour as well as corn, stuffing them with edible loroco flowers, shrimp, squash and more. She even has a pork, bean and cheese pupusa called the Olocuilta, which is named after the unofficial capital city of rice flour pupusas. A black bean pupusa brims with a bright pink curtido slaw that adds an extra vinegar kick to the soft corn masa.
More info: 516-997-0401. Open 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 9 a.m.-midnight Friday-Sunday.
Don Juan Pupuseria, Huntington Station
1760 New York Ave.
Latin delis and restaurants abound on New York Avenue, making it hard to decipher which offer the best grub. You can feel confident about your order at Don Juan Pupuseria. The immaculate, warm spot has been run by a Huntington family for nearly two decades. Steam tables full of Salvadoran dishes accompany a long list of pupusas. All are made to order, so if you’re in a hurry, be sure to call and order ahead. Made from corn masa, each pupusa is grilled to a perfect crisp, loaded with fillings like jalapeños (not for the faint hearted) as well as Central American delicacies like loroco, an herbaceous edible flower, and ayote, a pumpkin-like squash. Two pupusas per order will run about $5 to $6 dependent on filling, and are served with requisite curtido slaw and hot sauce.
More info: 631-351-0219. Open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.
La Tapachulteca, Hempstead
255 Fulton Ave.
The family behind one of the largest supermarket chains in El Salvador has relocated to New York and now owns this midsized market, pumping out fabulous pupusas as well as baked goods like sweet Salvadoran quesadilla cakes. Although the Torres family sold the brand in 2000, they were able to keep their U.S. outposts here and in the Los Angeles area. Bakery manager Thomas Torres says they're lucky to have a handful of skilled plancheras, or pupusa makers, who really know how to work the masa. Their pupusas are soft like pancakes and almost as wide as a plate. They explode with a hot mixture of refried red beans and melted cheese that seeps out the sides. There's not as much crunch to them, but the Monterrey Jack cheese pull is fantastic. If you ask, they also prepare the less-common variety of rice flour pupusas.
More info: 516-385-3685, latapany.com. Open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
Pupusas City, Middle Island
833 Middle Country Rd.
Iris Viera’s pupusas are the real deal, crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Viera prefers rice flour, which delivers a softer pupusa than their cornmeal counterparts. The Salvadoran recipe comes from her maternal grandmother and is “made with passion and love,” she said. Originally a food truck, Pupusas City serves everything from the classic beans and cheese to the loaded revuelta with steak, chicharron beans and cheese. On the Mexican fusion front, there's even a bírria pupusa complete with consommé for dipping. And if you’re hungry, the “big yammys” are two bean and cheese pupusas stuffed like a sandwich with a protein of your choice ($15.50).
More info: 631-448-8907, pupusascity.com. Open noon-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday. Cash only.
El Tazumal, Glen Cove
6 Glen St.
This brightly lit Salvadoran restaurant has been going strong since 1986, making it one of the oldest Latino businesses on the North Shore. Founders Felipe and Blanca Villatoro named the restaurant after a Mayan archaeological site that dates back to 1200 BC, and the pyramidal structure is emblazoned on the menu. Homestyle pupusas ($3.25) are on the softer side and ooze with cheese as you rip into them with your fork. There's chicharron revuelta (pork with beans and cheese) but the Salvadoran loroco flower is the highlight. The green buds of goodness add a delicate touch to the hearty corn. Shredded curtido slaw is blessed with a hint of oregano, adding a light herbaceous flavor. It's a lovely occasion for some Kola Champagne, a fizzy orange soda served in a glass bottle. It tastes more like a Pepsi than a glass of Dom Pérignon, but when in El Salvador …
More info: 516-674-9465, eltazumal.com. Open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
With Marie Elena Martinez