Hunt for a Good Pupusa: Panchita’s No. 2
And so I continue my mission to find a pupusa that would justify, at least in my mind, their ubiquity, nay, their very existence. In Panchita’s No. 2 I’ve found a pupuseria whose product at least gives me hope and prevents me from writing them off as nothing more than bland, pudgy little discs of deep-fried mystery mush.
There are three Panchita’s in S.F. The first is in the Excelsior neighborhood, the third is on 22nd Street (currently shuttered), in the Mission and my subject, also in the Mission, is on 16th Street. One of the pleasures to be taken there is observing from an out-facing vantage point, the curious parade of humanity streaming continuously past the windows to or from BART. A whole cross-section of the Bay can be seen being in ambulatory transit from the tables abutting the window sills of Panchita’s.
While I haven’t as yet been to the other two branches, I’m guessing they share a common culinary thread: food from El Salvador. Food from that particular Central American neck of the bosque is known for its heavy reliance on starchy heaviness. The pupusa is an exemplar of that quality, being a fried disc of corn meal with a panoply of possible ingredients stuffed inside. In my experience, however, those ingredients achieve an undesirable, disquieting unity with the corn meal, resulting in a highly unappealing mulch. Not so with those I had at Panchita’s. They had a good amount of flavor (enhanced by two dies that commonly come with pupusas: a house-made slaw plus a vat of spicy red sauce) and the texture had some variety. Even better was the plate of beef tongue stewed with tomatoes, onions and bell peppers, with refried black beans (better than it’s more popular cousin, the refried pinto bean) and rice on the side. It’s clearly an old school dish; the young Latina who attended upon me clearly viewed my choice of entree with skeptical bemusement.
I took my leave of Panchita’s after a final tilt of beer to the back of the throat, aware that it was the lengua that stuck with me, not the pupusas, even though they were better than those I’d tried on previous occasions. Dear reader(s), if ever you find one of them things worthy of a trip across town, let me know.
Panchita’s No. 2
3091 16th Street (@ Valencia)