Why Should La Pupusa Factory be renamed? Because this establishment is anything but a factory. The food is clearly homemade with care and attentiveness at this truly mom & pop establishment located in the heart of Little Havana, at 1947 West Flagler Street in Miami. Upon seating, I asked the teenage waiter for the best Salvadorean beer. “Let me go ask my dad which one is the best” was his honest answer – I guess it’s a good thing that he wasn’t sure, no? I ended up with a Salvadoren Pilsener ($3.50) that was a typical hot weather pilsener, but good enough. Anyway, my quest to sample the Loroco – the flower bud of a plant that grows in El Salvador and other parts of Guatemala & Central America led a friend and me to La Pupusa Factory.
The Pupusa is a Central American bread similar to the Mexican gordita. It is to El Salvador what the tortilla is to Mexico or the Arepa is to Colombia and Venezuela. Like the Arepa, it is often stuffed with savory fillings such as meats and cheeses. Our waiter immediately brought out some nacho chips and salsa, and at this point I asked him to go ahead and have the kitchen start on a couple of loroco and cheese pupusas.($2.50 each) The pupusa is a soft cooked bread that is reminiscent of a pancake, but savory rather than sweet and made from alkali treated corn. Though the ingredients are similar, this gives the pupusa a very different texture than the arepas of South America. The nachos were not that good – some were nice and crisp but others were chewy and stale. It seemed like a quality control issue of not strictly adhering to a first in – first out serving method. Less experienced restaurant staff will often dump fresh nachos into a big bin and serve from the top while the ones on the bottom get older and older. I am not saying this is what necessarily happened but that is how they tasted. On the other hand, the mexican style sauce was excellent. It was the runny version instead of the chunky version I prefer but this is a preference. The flavor was very very good and well balanced.
As we waited, the juke box came on and off with various unpredictable tunes and wild volume variations. Fair warning: The take out menu clearly states: La Pupusa Factory / Tienda de Musica Garcia Records. So as long as you know what to expect – you’re eating in a restaurant slash music store – you should take it as par for the course. Anyway, in a reasonably quick time we were served our pupusas along with a couple versions of the typical Central American onion based slaw called curtido, and a very mild hot sauce. The pupusas were delicious. Hot, with long strings of white cheese dangling from every fork full. The mild flavor of the loroco was subtle and did not serve as the center of attention but was a supporting ingredient, like pickles on a hamburger The cheese was clearly the standout in our pupusas, but they also can be ordered with a myriad of fillings such as chicken, beef, shrimp or beans.
The Pupusas are very filling but continuing on our culinary adventure, we ordered the Honduran dish known as a Baleada. A baleada is a large soft wheat tortilla filled with refried beans, sour cream, Central American white cheese, and perhaps other ingredients such as meat, eggs or curtido. We ordered a Baleada con Carne ($4.50) which came with 2 small slabs of very flavorful flank steak. Cutting into the baleada released a delicious aroma from the combination of sour cream and spices. The steak was not overly tough, even though flank or skirt steak is not known as a tender cut. Honestly, a baleada is not that different in flavor or concept from a burrito but the execution and quality were very well done here and it was a great value for the price and size. The menu at La Pupusa Factory is extensive, with several platters, seafood entrees, appetizers, breakfasts and ala carte items. After the pupusas and sharing the baleada there was no room to venture anywhere else on the menu. All the more reason to return. La Pupusa is a small family operation with 2 locations (the other is 1804 W 68th St. in Hialeah) and the pride of ownership is evident. The bathrooms are well maintained, tables are properly set and though located in a humble Little Havana storefront, it was spotlessly clean during our visit. The young waiter not only checked up on us constantly, but he voluntarily and vigilantly tended the meter where my car was parked out front.
La Pupusa serves hearty, blue collar food from 8am until after midnight every day at affordable prices. It is what I imagine as the Central American version of a family diner. Take into account that it dabbles as a record store and according to the Spanish language announcements, provides live entertainnment on certain weekends (oh yeah, and there is a DJ booth) but the food shows that they are paying attention where it counts. Maybe not the place to impress a first date, but maybe a good place to cheer up your steady girlfriend after a bad day. Fill her up on El Salvador’s version of comfort food while you play her favorite ballada on the jukebox. Definitely worth a visit.