Res­tau­rant Re­view

La Loncherita Sal­vadoreña

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT - Molly Boyle

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.

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