Most of us are familiar with tacos, pork, and rice as staples of the Latin kitchen, but every country has a few specialty food items that still are not in our everyday lingo. For me, and until now, one of those items was the Salvadoran “pupusa”.
I did a little investigation before I went to try one for the first time. Pupusas are similar to a flatbread or griddle cake made of corn or rice flour and are claimed by Salvadoran cuisine as their national dish. This flatbread is often filled with cheese and many times with a second item such as chicharron (pork), calabaza (squash), or frijoles (beans).
Pupusas’ history can be traced back some 2,000 years to the Pipil tribe of today’s Salvador’s territory but it really wasn’t until the 1980s that they started appearing in many U.S. cities.
The Salvadoran civil war of that period forced many residents to flee to the U.S. and they brought along their traditional dishes to this country.
The pupusa is considered a “hand food” served with “curtido” or fermented cabbage slaw and tomato salsa. It is many times compared to the Colombian arepa.
Now that we’ve gotten the history out of the way, let’s check out the menu at Maria’s. First of all, they serve breakfast. They have three options, Desayuno (breakfast ) #1 includes two eggs, beans, sour cream, cheese, and avocado; Desayuno (breakfast) #2 includes all of the same items plus rice and plantains; and a third Mexican Breakfast with huevos rancheros, rice, and refried beans. Count me in for breakfast this weekend!
On their all-day menu, you’ll find a large selection of appetizers or “antojitos”, some Fried Yuca with Pork; Salvadoran Tamales; Pork Pastelitos, and Plantain Empanadas.
How are Salvadoran tamales different? They’re wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks as Mexican tamales usually are.
Pork Pastelitos are also something new to me, they’re made with masa, shaped like a half-moon, stuffed with beef, and deep-fried. They were served straight from the kitchen, hot, crispy, and tasty. I could just have stopped there but there is plenty more to taste.
Their entrées, or “platos fuertes”, include beef, chicken, fish, and pork. One of our selections on the first visit was the Carne Asada (or sliced steak) with rice, beans, salad, avocado and tortillas; the other Costillas de Puerco en Salsa Verde (pork short ribs) with the same compliments.
The ribs are simmered in green tomatillo sauce and have some terrific flavor. They carry some heat and I alternated those with some of the plain pupusas and rice to moderate the intensity.
I also had a chance to taste the Blackened Tilapia and their traditional Salvadoran sandwich called Torta Hula Hula.
The Hula Hula uses pan flauta (flute loaf) and is literally bigger than a foot long. Each loaf is split and covered in mayo and mashed avocado, then layered with mustardy “curtido”, cheese, strips of ham, and then pressed on a flat top grill.
They suggested dipping in tomatillo sauce before every bite. Don’t call it a “Cuban sandwich” or “Mexican torta” because it’s not. This sandwich is unique and outstanding!
The portions here are generous. Other menu items include Mojarra Frita (tilapia), also served blackened; Pollo Guisado con Papas (chicken stew); Enchiladas Verdes; Enchiladas Rojas and Pechuga de Pollo a la Plancha (grilled chicken breast).
From the Mexican side of the menu, you can get Quesadillas, Burritos, Tacos, and Sopes. Pretty much any of those can be served with chicken, carne asada, or carnitas (grilled pork).
They also have weekend specials such as Sopa Mariscada Salvadoreña (Salvadoran Seafood Soup) and Atol de Elote (Sweet Corn Drink) which is a warm, thick, and sweet beverage made with corn kernels, cinnamon, and milk. It’s a perfect drink to have with breakfast, tamales, or as a snack.
All of this delicious food wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for Maria’s big dream and perseverance to achieve it. When I met with her, she immediately struck me as a determined but kind and soft-spoken person. She told me about her childhood when she used to go to school events in El Salvador and sell baked goods and cheese that her mother had made at home.
She was an entrepreneur from a very young age. We went through the period when her country was in the middle of a civil war and how she married her husband at the sweet age of seventeen. Maria and her husband have worked hard to raise three children who all contribute to the family business.
She worked for over twelve years at a restaurant in Anna Maria Island and then decided to launch her own business selling pupusas from her home and at flea markets in the area.
Her delicious pupusas were very well accepted and her clientele grew steadily. She continued her sales during the COVID-19 pandemic and then decided to open her family restaurant. The food here is delicious and I can see the establishment being very successful.
Maria’s Pupusas & Tacos is located at Pinebrooks Commons:
4832 Cortez Rd W, Bradenton, FL 34210
(941) 241- 8326
Hours of Operation are:
Monday 11:00 am. – 9:00 pm.
Closed on Tuesday
Wednesday – Sunday 11:00 am. – 9:00 pm.