By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by Tenaya HillsThe wait at Nancy's Pupusería Restaurant is excruciatingly long, long enough that you can finish the Calendar and California sections of the Los Angeles Times and get through half of Sports before your order arrives. But don't hold the delay against owner Nancy Funes. She and one of her charming daughters are usually the only workers at this Buena Park dive: mija assumes the dual role of cashier and waitress while Nancy labors alone in the kitchen. Nancy—regal but ragged—appears from time to time, simultaneously monitoring the various young men who court her daughters and sighing at the stream of customers that her glorious cooking attracts.
The customers wait with patience, and so should you—as Sunday school taught, patience is a virtue, and its reward is the pupusa. Nancy's namesake Salvadoran pupusas are grilled discs o' plenty, bubbling with slightly salty cheese and not too greasy, as they are in so many other county pupuserías. She pats out nine different types, from a bitter spinach variety to one dotted with minced pork slices that are like biting into a young pig's buttered backside. Occupying a different stratosphere entirely are the pupusas de calabasa (squash). This option is a rare find in Orange County (the only other local restaurant I know that sells them is Santa Ana's El Pupusódromo). But scarcity alone doesn't explain the pupusa de calabasa's luster. Nancy somehow tucks in fresh zucchini bits within the pupusa's cheesy morass without compromising the zucchini's natural, juicy snappiness. That Nancy does this is a minor miracle—maybe not on the level of Fatima but at least Medjugorje.
There's a Mexican side to the menu at Nancy's as well, although choosing Mexican at a Salvadoran restaurant is apostasy to Mexicans and guanacos alike. Instead, order the hamburger-and-fries combo of El Salvador: yucca con chicharrones, a dish as primal as it is tasteful, with golden yucca blocks served alongside pork chunks so fried they crackle into shards if you so much as sneeze on them. Not the healthiest of plates—eating yucca con chicharrones is akin to having cholesterol surgically installed in your arteries—but the chicharrón is fatty and sweet, and the crusty yucca skins give way to a sweet interior that matches the best In-N-Out fries.
Nancy does a side business in Argentine empanadas—strange, considering the two countries have about as much in common as Belize and Bhutan. It's probably this dissimilarity that explains her innovative rendition: they're not fluffy like those found in Buenos Aires; they're long, with a ridged edge like a Home Run Pie rather than the normal squat shape; delicious instead of merely filling like Argentine-made empanadas. Culinary transubstantiation is all in a day's work here, but it takes time—so make time.—Gustavo Arellano Nancy's Pupusería Restaurant, 8511 Knott Ave., Buena Park, (714) 995-2086.
Know a place to grub? E-mail Gustavo at Garellano@Ocweekly.Com. For more food fun, including Orange County's best damn dining guide and the weekly racist Mexican restaurant logo, visit www.ocweekly.com/food.