Having been born and raised in east Las Vegas, I have spent most of my life living in a pupusa paradise. Even though pupusas are traditionally Salvadoran, my Guatemalan family has enjoyed them for years supporting our Central American brothers and sisters. Not only are pupusas delicious and filling (two and I’m good), but at an average of $2 each, they are a great deal.
Pupusas are generally corn masa rolled into a ball, stuffed, flattened like a thick tortilla 5-6 inches in diameter, then grilled and served hot. Common fillings include cheese, beans, chicharron (fried pork) and loroco (a savory Central American flower) with revuelta (beans, cheese and chicharron) or cheese with loroco being the most traditional. The dish is always served with a lightly fermented cabbage salad called curtido, and a mild tomato-based sauce, both served cold to offset the heat from the fresh pupusas.
For most of my pupusa-eating life I would do the following: Stack two pupusas on top of one other, drench them with sauce, top with a healthy portion of curtido and then dig in with a knife and fork, pancake-style. This all changed one fateful day when I went out to eat with my Salvadorian friend, Yosha. She tore off a piece of the pupusa, dipped it in sauce and then scooped some curtido off her plate and devoured it in one bite. I tried it myself and could not believe what I had been missing out on all these years. Sweet freedom! Eating with my hands allows me to have the perfect bite every time. I will never go back to the fork.
Central American restaurants move at a different speed than we’re used to here in Las Vegas. Be prepared to wait a little bit longer. Most of these businesses are family-owned and operated—no frills, just good food. Pupusas are made to order, and usually to go; most restaurants offer a discount if you order a dozen or more. So if you walk in and it looks empty, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get served right away. Pacienca, amigos.
Here are the best pupusas from every corner of the Valley:
East Las Vegas
The eastside has great Salvadoran restaurants on every other corner, so it’s difficult to pick a favorite. At the top of my list is El Triunfo (4450 E. Charleston Blvd., Suite 3, cash only), which grills its pupusas till they get a crisp edge—very important—and has the spiciest (and, in my opinion, the best) curtido, made with cabbage, carrots, jalapeños and arbol chili. Shout out to Ilopango’s (3430 E. Tropicana Ave., Suite 3) for its giant Pupusa Loca and to Rincon Catracho (4110 S. Maryland Pkwy., Suite 31) for its late-night karaoke.
El Salvadoreño is the OG! This family-owned business (720 N. Main St.) began serving pupusas out of a home in the 1980s and eventually took over an old diner (featured in the movie Casino). This place sets the pupusa standard. Shout out to Esmeralda’s Cafe (1000 E. Charleston Blvd., Suite 101) for putting loroco in its revueltas, and to Pupusa Loka (1956 E. Charleston Blvd.) for its friendly staff and kitschy decor.
Pupusas on Wheels
If you are ever near Charleston Boulevard and Maryland Parkway, keep your eyes peeled for Pupusas Mi Guanaquita, a food cart that does not mess around (9 a.m.-7 p.m., Wed-Sun, cash only).
Pupusas at Honduran-owned Bahia Centroamerica (5000 W. Charleston Blvd.) are large, crispy and served with a rich curtido and paired nicely with agua fresca de nance (fresh nance fruit drink). Also try the Tacos Nica—rolled tacos with heavy mayo and cabbage slaw.
North Las Vegas
Panaderia Salvadoreña (3401 E. Lake Mead Blvd.) was the biggest surprise in my pupusa pursuit. Not only is this a Guatemalan/Salvadorian bakery, but it also has amazing pupusas. The place is small, but clean, and the aroma of freshly baked bread and pastries makes for an even better dining experience. When I ordered my pupusas, the baker asked me if I wanted them big or small. I ordered both to see the difference. After a short wait, the woman handed me a bag of fresh pupusas and said in Spanish, “Here you go, young man: the best pupusas in Las Vegas.” She wasn’t lying. The small pupusas (a little less than four inches in diameter) were packed with flavor and crispy all the way around. Northtown, you done did it again!
With five locations throughout the Valley, the Las Pupusas (641 N. Stephanie St.) chain thankfully opened up a joint near the Galleria Mall. Without this place, Henderson would be a pupusa desert.
Speaking of pupusa deserts, Summerlin is just that, but not to worry Summerlanites: There are a couple of places just east of your palm tree-lined borders. You could go to the northwest location of Las Pupusas (7450 W. Cheyenne Ave.), but I recommend San Salvador Restaurant (6651 Smoke Ranch Rd.). Big pupusas, big flavor.
Justin Favela is a Las Vegas native, artist and taco enthusiast. When not in his studio, he is usually eating. Visit JustinFavela.net to see more of his work.