Pupusa Love

26 Oct

Still in our first year, but now on our second round of picks, Charlie found La Cabana Salvadorena “in the heights”…several years before the musical of the same name opened. I remember driving up and around the hills past the George Washington Bridge trying to find parking. I also remember how glad the owners and chef were to have us at his restaurant. Something that happened quite often throughout our years doing this.

La Cabana Salvadoreña
4384 Broadway
Washington Heights

Having gone full circle; everyone fulfilling their responsibility and picking a restaurant within our still vague guidelines, it was back to Charlie, who led off last February with the Puerto Rican restaurant in El Barrio, La Fonda Boricua. Keeping in that Latin vein and also keeping us in Manhattan, Charlie chose La Cabana Salvadorena, on 187th street and Broadway, the northern fringe of Washington Heights. The food promised was not just Latin, but Salvadoran, a cuisine none of us had the pleasure of previously experiencing. I admit having come close while living in Los Angeles in the 1980’s. During my seemingly endless time behind the wheel of my wreck of a car, I would pass establishments advertising pupusas. These establishments were called pupuserias. Though always somewhat adventurous about food, I never had the nerve to pull up to a pupuseria in Los Angeles. Hot dogs were a big part of my subsistence while I struggled in Los Angeles and I ate all kinds there including a very memorable one called an Oki Dog, two hot dogs

wrapped in a big burrito-sized flour tortilla and stuffed with pastrami, cheese, chili and onions. The Oki Dog experience I still remember fondly as a youthful indulgence akin to experimenting with a hallucinogenic drug. I had no limits when it came to hot dogs, but I could not get myself to try a pupusa. There was the connotation with something cuddly that just turned me off.  So here, many years later on a cold damp autumn evening in Washington Heights, I think I was ready to try a pupusa.

Zio and I were the first to arrive at the brightly-lit restaurant. We choose the big round table next to the “Real Women Have Curves” poster. Our waitress came up immediately to begin taking our orders. I held out my fingers in the right manner to alert the waitress that there would be six of us and ordered a Presidente beer. The waitress obviously knew little or no English and Zio and I pointed to the menu helping her to understand. And looking at the menus, which were under the glass on the table, we noticed different variations of the same menus. One item on all the different menus, however, was consistent: pupusas.

After struggling to find parking, the others soon all arrived. I warned them that getting help on what to order from the exotic menu might be difficult considering the language barrier with our waitress. No sooner had I said that than Raul came to our rescue. Raul, it turned out, had no financial attachment to La Cabana Salvadorena; he was an electrician and a friend of the owners. He offered his bilingual services to us along with his expertise in choosing the best items on the menu. We gave Raul free reign as what to order for us. We trusted him implicitly. And Raul, despite being from Honduras rather than Salvador, delivered. He came back with pupusas, rice and corn flour patties, stuffed with beans, pork, and cheese. He picked a mixed seafood ceviche for us, a few platters of “Plato Tipico” a combination plate of typical Salvadoran food; thinly pounded steak, steamed chicken tamale in the husk, a cheese pupusa with “loroco” a grated cheese, sweet plantains, and a “tortilla;” an omelet with chorizo and onions. We engulfed it. Consumed it. Devoured it all including the tasteless cabbage salad that came in a jar and was on every table. While we were eating, the chef, who also spoke little or no English came out to check on our progress. Looking somewhat like the actor, Edward James Olmos, the chef was impressed with our work, though upset that Raul had neglected to order us the boiled beef, also a Salvadoran specialty. Next time, we promised. He went away smiling and satisfied the gringos were pleased.

As with most of our experiences, dessert was limited here as well. We all sampled a piece of what seemed like fried dough in sugar syrup. Eugene immediately proclaimed the meal as his favorite of the seven we had experienced. And it certainly fulfilled our original aim; even with beers and other drinks, our bill came under $20 per person. We were getting pretty good at this.

I returned to La Cabana Salvadorena recently.  I was glad to see that pretty much nothing had changed in the eight years since I’d last visited. They had no website and there were no stickers from Zagat, Yelp, Citysearch or anywhere else on their windows. The awning, small front counter, and dining room, with the exception of the “Real Women Have Curves” poster being gone, was exactly as I remembered it. But best of all were the prices—still frozen at 2002 levels.

One Response to “Pupusa Love”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Poor Man’s Pupusas of Port Chester « Fried Neck Bones…and some home fries - September 11, 2012

    […] ago at a restaurant in Washington Heights that still survives called: La Cabana Salvadorena.  (See Pupusa Love). As I vaguely recall, the pupusas were worth loving there and we had to try a few at El Tesoro. No […]

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