At noon on a clear day, the front of El Centro Pupuseria and Restaurant is drenched in sunshine, and it’s possible to sit at a table and warm your face and hands in the stuff — which is nothing to sniff at midway through a winter that has been deceptively bright and lovely on its most wind-chilliest days. Add to that a hot plate of pupusas, and you have highly pleasant, if fleeting, escape.
Pupusas are a Salvadoran dish in which a disc of masa harina dough is piled with filling — cheese, shredded pork, chicken, peppers, squash, beans, and mint or some combination of these — gathered into a ball, and then reflattened and cooked on a grill or iron skillet. At El Centro, the pupusas have a perfect corn to filling ratio; they’re somehow both light and hearty.
On a recent tasting mission, we fell for the queso con loroco pupusa ($3, top). Loroco is a vine plant native to Central America, where it is grown for its edible bud and tiny, white flowers. Our server kindly brought a frozen bud stem out to the table (above). It looked like it could be a close cousin of the broccoli rabe or caper bush, but it tasted curiously like cacao and pumpkin seed.
It was interesting raw, and it was delicious cooked. In the pupusa, it became more of a vegetable with a nutty, asparagus-like flavor and a slightly bitter after taste, which was a particularly pleasing companion to all that rich corn and melted cheese.
At El Centro, the pupusas are served with two condiments. One is a thin tomato and paprika sauce, which generally adds a welcome savory note. The other is curtido de repollo, a quick-pickled slaw of cabbage, carrot, onion, vinegar, and herbs (above).
It’s bright, crunchy, and spicy, just what the comforting pupusa needs to shake it up, but it can overwhelm the more subtle fillings, including two of our favorites, the squash and the bean and mint (above). In fact, we would forgo both condiments with the earthy loroco — at least for the first bite.
El Centro Pupusería and Restaurante, 1532 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407; 651.721.0013