La Loncherita Salvadoreña
The weather was late-summer stormy on my first visit to La Loncherita Salvadoreña, a Mexican-blue food truck situated on a rather forlorn-looking parcel of land across from the Kmart and Lowe’s Marketplace shopping center. My mood matched the setting: I felt melancholy for the end of summer, and I was also very hungry. Intermittent raindrops tapped the plastic tarp covering the seating area. I admired the bright yellow of the lot’s abundantly blooming chamisa and sunflowers against the slate sky. Then our order was ready.
La Loncherita serves pupusas, round discs of thick corn masa stuffed with four combination options: refried beans and cheese; cooked pork (called chicharrón, not to be confused with crispy Mexican pork rinds of the same name) and cheese; cheese and loroco, a vine with edible flowers native to Central America; and revueltas, which contain all the above. There is also usually a calabacitas and cheese option, which combines zucchini and queso fresco. You can get any of these combinations cooked with rice flour instead of corn.
These pupusas are special, and all the more special for the dingy lot where you get to consume them, should you decide to stay. They come with one plastic baggie of curtido — a lightly pickled Salvadoran relish of crisp cabbage, sliced jalapeños, and carrots — and another bag of non-spicy watery red salsa. Unlike other pupusas I have had in this town, these are self-contained and well-formed — they do not over-ooze, nor are they greasy, and their griddle marks are handsome and homespun, not charred. Each pupusa costs $1.75 ($2 for calabacitas con queso), and two of them make an ample lunch.
The thing to do is to heap your curtido on the pupusa, pour some of that salsa over the heap, and go to town. You will be glad you did. The refried beans are pleasantly starchy, the cheese mild and elastic. My favorite is the loroco, which has a delicately vegetal flavor that makes you quite aware that you are eating flowers and that they are delicious. The chicharrón is ground pork, lightly seasoned and thankfully not dripping in fat, that nests itself quite nicely in the chewy queso fresco. The revuelta pupusa combines all of these ingredients in a way that truly makes you appreciate the whole as the sum of its excellent parts. But the star of this humble show is the corn masa that envelops everything else — rich, with the sweet, hearty earthiness of hominy, and then perfectly browned, it makes for an inimitable comfort food.
I ate all the pupusas I could at the plastic table under the rainy tarp. I looked harder at the pop of yellow flowers in contrast with the now-thunderous sky while I stuffed myself with masa de maíz, and in this weedy little spot, watching the cars running their occupants’ errands on Llano Street, I felt content. The elemental simplicity of this meal — masa, beans, cheese, flowers, pork — coming straight from a hot grill in an old truck, cooked by a polite woman who knows exactly what she is doing, and consumed while sitting under the majestic Sangre de Cristos — is just more inspiring than all the raspberry coulis or elk patés in town. I chose the perfect beverage to accompany this fine food (La Loncherita offers a small selection of sodas): the nectar of the people, a Fanta Grape soda.
There is another, even more interesting place to sit at La Loncherita, which I discovered on a subsequent visit: a Valentine-themed jerry-rigged dumpster-cum-seating area, an iron behemoth sporting giant arrows, heart-shaped tables, and planters bearing both flowers and weeds. The view is directly of the street, but the whole situation has the feel of a vaguely seedy hideaway where high school kids might make out. On Tuesdays, La Loncherita serves another Salvadoran speciality, pan con pollo (a chicken sandwich), which necessitated a try. Consisting of a hollowed-out bolillo roll, a pile of crunchy coleslaw (with lettuce, cabbage, and sliced radishes), and a mass of stewed chicken chunks, it’s enormous — like chicken salad in a bread bowl, and very savory, requiring a knife and fork.
Sampling another round of pupusas, too — rice flour revuelta and calabacitas con queso — I was charmed anew. The rice flour has a lighter and chewier feel, but the same essential flavors come through. The fresh zucchini is expertly shaved and evenly distributed throughout. Yet again, this culinary experience brought a satisfied joy, accentuated by its ramshackle vibe: the converted dumpster, the street, the sky, the mountains, and the neat blue truck where all the good food comes from.