Southwest Detroit, Part 2: Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño

Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño, on 3149 Livernois Avenue, Detroit, Michigan is situated just outside of Mexicantown, and offers Salvadorean cuisine instead of Mexican food. However, it’s clearly spiritually and culturally linked to the neighborhood, another grain of sand in the mandala. Amidst the general decay it’s a concrete slab of normalcy, exactly what the area needs. The tiles are new, the booths are snug and cozy, and the ghosts of two proud Castilian knights in shining armor greet you at the door. A closed-circuit camera under the glowing Pupusería sign watches over your car – you can see the parking lot on a screen from where you’re eating, knowing it’s safe.

Now, if you were Salvadorean, it would go without saying that a pupesería serves pupusas, a simple indigenous dish that’s thousands of years old. But since you’re probably not Salvadorean, I’ll explain a little more. A pupusa is basically a quesadilla made with a really thick corn tortilla and stuffed with cheese and either pork, beans, loroco flowers, or vegetables . However, unlike a quesadilla, you don’t normally cut it up into slices, but simple eat it whole instead. It’s usually served with curtido, which is basically a sour cole slaw. At Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño, they also add jalapenos to their curtido, giving it a nice kick, and they always hand you some of their liquidy but very fresh salsa in Tupperware containers to complement your meal.

Though I’d like to say that the pupusas at Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño are the most amazing food I’ve eaten, I’d be lying. Of course, the hip intelligentsia that regularly ravage the bloated cultureless carcass of Metro Detroit in search of anything authentic would tell you that it’s better than any other Hispanic restaurant EVER in the state, but I don’t buy the hype. Sure, with a typical dinner only costing 6 or 7 dollars, it’s definitely a great bargain, and – true – all the food is made to order, which is rare.

But the thing is, pupusas just aren’t that amazing. It’s hearty, working class food, utilizing a few basic ingredients to make something that tastes pretty darn good, but not great. The cheese, for one, tends to overpower the other fillings. There’s not enough balance in the dishes. I ordered a squash pupusa, and I couldn’t even taste the squash, only the cheese. And for that matter, I can’t really tell the difference between their squash pupusa and their jalapeno pupusa. It’s all just cheese, cheese, cheese.

Then again, at least their cheese has more flavor than your typical Oaxaca cheese. And who can hate freshly baked bread? Plus, they do brew a strong, aromatic coffee that would laugh in the face of any of that putrid coffee-flavored water they try to serve you at a typical American diner. Hey, I did say their food was pretty good, after all.

However, I must confess, the real reason I go to Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño is for the ambience – the wall adorned with the flags of countries from both South America and the Middle East, the Spanish TV stations broadcasting a never-ending stream of soccer matches, the gumball machines, and all the proud families that come in from the neighborhood to spend quality time together over a good meal. It’s a nice, normal place, where you can be at ease and enjoy yourself.

Sure, outside, the world is being swept away. On a block right down the street, half the homes have already been torn down. It’s all just vanishing before your eyes, and too fast. But here, everything is peaceful, real, and tangible. it’s not going anywhere soon. I can hold onto this mug for as long as I want. Sipping my coffee, I wonder: how long before I’m swept away, too?

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