Is there a meal more delicious yet more underachieving than pupusas? The Salvadoran staple is a known quantity in OC, but has never become a hipster favorite upon which to create new culinary adventures—never became an empanada, a bánh mi, a bimimbap, or even pinche poke. Part of its appeal—and its limitation—is that it's so straightforward: masa, cheese, and ingredients inside, topped with curtido and a red salsa more savory than spicy. It's nearly impossible to class up, because its piping hot cheese and toastiness of the grilled masa overwhelm nearly any other flavor—a blessing and a curse that keeps it unapologetically working class.
But there is one hack that elevates pupusas: order it made from maíz de arroz—rice flour. At El Amanecer Cafe, the finest Salvi spot in SanTana, you get from the first bite why this slight modification is as transformational as Jesus. Unlike the earthiness of masa made from corn, the rice flour makes the pupusa airier, softer, a tad sweeter. It sits lighter on the stomach, lets the other ingredients shine a bit more. Wash it down with Salvadoran horchata—a drink so fabulous it makes Mexican horchata taste like Flint water—and dream of pupusas becoming as much a playground for innovative chefs as aguachile.
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El Amanecer Cafe, 733 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-6993