Pupusería San Sivar - Costa Mesa
Pupusas. If there's one thing that's been floating around in the food blogosphere that I couldn't wait to get my grubby hands on, it's pupusas. Everyone, it seems, has written effusively about pupusas. Pam of Daily Gluttony wrote about it. Kirk of mmm-yoso! wrote about it. But as drool-inducing as these posts were, they didn't get me closer to any pupusas since Pam's in L.A., and Kirk's in San Diego.
I had no pupusa leads in O.C.
That is, not until now.
Enter Professor Salt. Gilligan's Island may have their Professor, but I didn't need a radio made from a coconut; I needed pupusas.
Chowhound's resident "Ph.D. in Food Appreciation" and published O.C. food sage, Professor Salt wrote up a brilliant essay on his favorite pupusas, found at a-hole-in-the-strip-mall called Pupusería San Sivar in lovely Costa Mesa.
And this definitely is as divey as hole-in-the-walls get. My kind of place!
Walking into the door, I got the sense that I entered into a battered cantina in the middle of nowhere Central America; something out of that movie "Motorcycle Diaries" or "El Mariachi". Bright yellow table cloths clashed with the peeling deep blue wallpaint. Chotskys dangle from the ceilings and worn posters promoting El Salvador tourism plastered the walls. Other than a narrow one-way mirror that looked out from the kitchen, there was no sign that anyone was minding the store. The joint was empty.
Then, a young gentleman finally came out, dressed in jeans and t-shirt. He handed me a menu as I took a seat. I pointed to two items on the pupusa side of the menu; one cheese filled ($1.90) and another with beans and pork ($2.00).
"How big were these pupusas," I inquired.
The young man curled his thumbs and forefingers into "C's" and brought them together.
"Ahh, muy bien," I nodded in approval.
Then, feeling pretty confident that I could squeeze out a few more words from my high school Spanish class, I said to him "Agua para beber, por favor." He smiled knowingly and took my order to the kitchen.
A few minutes later he returned with a chilled squeeze bottle of piquant hot sauce and a black plastic mortar filled with "curtido", which I learned from Professor Salt's pupusa-primer as vinegared cabbage laced with chili flakes. This slaw is meant to be eaten as roughage with the pupusas.
As soon as the pupusas were served, I used the metal tongs to mound some curtido on top of it. The crisp, slightly burnt masa dough had a pleasant subtle corn taste; smoother in texture than grits, but not as sweet as polenta. The Professor was right though; these puppies must be eaten immediately to appreciate the full potential of crisp crust and hot filling.
The hot cheese pupusa reminded me of a quesadilla, but more substantial. The oozing and rich molten goodness went perfectly with the tangy, crisp and cool curtido.
The bean and pork pupusa was even better. Sandwiched between the grilled masa dough was a thin layer refried beans and shredded pork, with a slight chili heat and aroma of cumin. Like a flattened, gridled tamal, this was my favorite out of the two.
"¡Las pupusas son muy sabrosas!"
Pupusería San Sivar
1940 Harbor Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92627