As an admitted pupusa lover of grande proportions, I am always prowling for places in Long Beach to fill my unhealthy cravings for the Salvadoran cheese-and-dough disks.
Pupuseria Salvadorena stole my heart early and I fell hard for their bulky selection of fillings and masas, but as I made the monthly journey to the Westside, I often found myself craving Latino foodstuffs besides what was on the strictly Salvadoran menu–some thicker salsa, a taco on the side, maybe (gasp!) tortilla chips.
With a more diverse menu and dedication to what its outdoor sign calls "Salva-Mex food," Chiltepe on Atlantic Ave. in North Long Beach is the pupusa place that fulfills all my pan-Latino nom needs.
A page of Salvadoran breakfast options and Spanglish-speaking Salva servers show Chiltepe's preference for the Central American country, however, wall flags from both Mexico and El Salvador and a divided lunch and dinner menu prove a dedication to authentic food from both países.
The Salvadoran side of the menu is filled with traditional dishes and soups from sopa de gallina to carne guizada and its pupusa offerings include about ten of the usual suspects like asada y queso, chorizo and revueltas. The pupusas are cheap enough (no more than $2.45 each) that ordering a few then moving on to the Mexi side of the menu is all but required.
On the Mexi page, Chilitepe offers tortas, mariscos, enchiladas, tacos and burritos, all of which are meals in their own right. Order a few tacos or one of their large-portioned platillos (the perfect amount to split when ordering from both menus) and your table will soon be loaded with essential condiments from both lands–a Tupperware of curtido, jars of watery Salvadoran salsa and Mexican-style chips with taqueria-style salsa roja.
When the pupusas come, it's okay to douse them in both the traditional thin tomato sauce and the much spicier, more viscious Mexican salsa before topping off with cabbage slaw and digging in.
Chiltepe's pupusas are everything I dream about pupusas being, thin walls of masa exploding out the sides with cheese that pools on the edges into crispy brown delicacies. Filled with tender chicharron, beans and pork, the revueltas remains a fatty, flavorful favorite, but the loroco pupusas continue to come in a close second, with Chiltepe's featuring whole strings of the sweet green vine.
On the Mexi front, this little hole in the wall also excels. Its carne asada has a tangy, citrus marinade that works in both burritos and tacos (the latter of which comes on a hand-made brown-pocked tortilla could otherwise be one half of a pupusa) and its tortas are loaded sandwiches fit for two meals.
So what if the tablecloths are made from the same plastic as your grandmother's couch covering and the neighborhood is in the center of a gang turf war (there was a murder a block away the day before my last visit)? For the opportunity to fill those pupusa cravings in the company of a Mexi taco, lunch at Chiltepe is worth braving the sometimes-iffy Atlantic Ave. corridor.
Chiltepe, 5631 Atlantic Ave, Long Beach, (562) 984-1298
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.