Pupusería: A taste of El Salvador in Northeast Philadelphia
An entrepreneur bring the best of Salvadorian cuisine to Northeast Philly.
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“In El Salvador, wherever there are pupusas, that’s where the people go,” laughed Elisseth Amaya, owner and chef at Pupuseria Sabor Latino #2 in Northeastern Philly.
The pupusa, a classic Salvadorian dish, consists of a handmade corn flour tortilla that is filled and cooked on a griddle. Common fillings include chicharron (pork), chicken or refried beans with cheese, but you can also order the “loca” that has a combination of everything. They are meant to be eaten by hand and topped with pickled cabbage and tomato sauce. The exterior is a bit greasy, but once you bite in, the soft tortilla combines with the rich filling to produce a satisfying punch of flavor.
Pupusas and Central American cuisine are rarities in Philadelphia. While they do appear (check out El Merkury near Rittenhouse), you often have to venture outside the center of the city to find them.
Amaya, who is originally from Tierra Blanca, El Salvador, got her start cooking this unique cuisine four years ago when she decided to open up a food truck on 5th Street and Lindley to share her country’s distinctive tastes with the city.
“I always wanted to have my own restaurant. The truck was a good place to start,” explained Amaya. “It’s not hard to sell pupusas because everyone loves them.”
Although she was able to attract a large Latino clientele on the lookout for Salvadorian classics, it wasn’t easy to overcome the challenges of being both an immigrant and an entrepreneur.
“The biggest challenge was overcoming racism,” said Amaya. “People came and screamed, ‘You’re illegal! Get out,’ or tried to report us to food inspection even though there was nothing wrong.”
Eventually Amaya was able to acquire her current location not far from the Erie Torresdale stop on the MFL where she could offer more space to customers and expand the Salvadorian food on offer.
“It was a blessing to be able to move into this space,” said Amaya. “People thought this location wasn’t going to work, but we’re always full on weekends.”
Examples of her Salvadorian dishes include the Pastelillos salvadoreños (empanadas filled with with chicken and potatoes) and the seafood soup (featuring calamari, shrimp, tilapia and mussels). If you are looking to avoid the meat, there are also many vegetarian options, such as the veggie tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, rice and beans.
“Whatever people want we can make for them,” said Amaya. “We serve many different types of customers — Puerto Ricans, Americans, Guatemalans, a bit of everyone.”
They also offer fresh Central American drinks, such as horchata (rice, milk, vanilla, cinnamon), Jamaica (hibiscus tea), various fruit juices, tamarindo (tamarind, sugar, water) and atol de elote (Guatemalan sweet corn and milk drink seasoned with cinnamon or vanilla and served warm).
Going forward, Amaya hopes to be able to expand the business, but she is happy with the restaurant’s success so far.
“I used to work in Wendy’s making $7 an hour,” said Amaya. “I want to tell the Hispanic community that anything is possible.”
For more information about Pupuseria Sabor Latino, check out their website at https://pupuseria-sabor-latino.negocio.site/ or their Facebook pupuseria.saborlatino. They offer delivery on Doordash and UberEats. Address: 1446 East Hunting Park Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19124. Hours: Monday – Saturday 9am to 9pm, Sunday 9am to 6pm. Prices: $2.50 - $12.