Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pupuseria El Salvador La Original, 4639 S Division Ave ~ 1/20/15

Driving south on Division Avenue is always an interesting ride and we've discovered some unique little restaurants doing that. But someone mentioned this place to us (thanks, Sarah Scott!) so today we drove down Division with a specific destination in mind. And we missed it the first time. One our way back north, we spotted the sign and turned in to find the small, set-back restaurant.
We weren't sure at first if it was counter-service only so stood about for a minute or two trying to figure it out. A friendly man soon greeted us and told us to sit wherever we would like and he warned against sitting by the windows. Good advice as we froze anyway away from the windows but it was a bitterly cold day.
The restaurant felt small at first with booths crammed everywhere but when we did some calculating, it appears the space could hold upwards of 50 people. Ten booths are back to back with each other and there are five smaller tables and chairs along the side wall. Today we shared the place with one lone soul.
A large menu is posted on the wall but our server also brought us the huge 9-page menus to peruse. Some items are described in Spanish & English, others just in Spanish but there are pictures galore. It was difficult to make a decision with so many choices. And for those of you looking for breakfast choices, if you can wait until 10 or 11am to eat, there is a full page of breakfast selections whose descriptions were very tempting. Other than the menus, there was very little wall art, this being one exception.
Our server was patient as our indecision was obvious and he suggested we start with guacamole. He asked if we liked it hot but he didn't trust our "yes" because we had to make it hotter when it arrived. But fresh & flavorful it was, complete with the avocado pit and a wedge of lime.
We were surprised with the complimentary lentil soup which we happily consumed. And after further conversation with our server, we started with two pupusas & fried plantains. One pupusa was steak and cheese and the other was jalapeno pepper and cheese. These were divided amongst us and were such a treat! The pupusa is a thick tortilla, but with twice the flavor, and stuffed before cooking, which can be opened like pita bread and filled with additional items, like the fermented cabbage slaw that accompanied it. Or the cabbage can just be placed on top of the pupusa and eaten like a taco. Our server assured us that both methods were acceptable :-)
The fried plantains were exceptional, particularly due to the crema y frijoles that came along with them. We were advised to mix the sauces together before dipping the plantains. And we can assure you that you have not tasted anything like those sauces in any other Mexican/Spanish restaurant here in Grand Rapids.

We could have stopped there but were so thrilled with this new-to-us food that we ordered more, knowing we'd take the bulk of it home with us. Pork tamales, steak tacos, and taquitos rounded out our meal here (well, there were three of us :-) ).
We were all happy with our choices, and again, this is so much better than the stuff served up in your average Mexican restaurants, but the stars of this place are the pupusas and the plantains with the sour cream and bean sauce. The ingredients are fresh and the food is prepared after you order it. Here's our server in the kitchen doing just that.
There was one other person working in the kitchen and when we asked about the history of the place the information was a little spotty but apparently it's been open about 10 years with ownership changing hands among family members.

The restaurant is book-ended by a car wash and a laundromat that explained the "no change" signs on the door.
And although the neighborhood might seem a little dilapidated with 24/7 security cameras necessary, don't be dissuaded from checking out this place. We have 29 more pupusas to try in this Rincon Magico (as they call themselves).
They are on Facebook, and their current hours, per our server Joseph are as follows:
Monday-Thursday ~ 11:00am - 8:30 or 9:00pm
Friday & Saturday ~ 10:00am - 10:00pm
Sunday ~10:00am - 8:30pm
We are so happy to share another local gem with you and regret that it took us 10 years to find it!
Pupuseria El Salvador La Original on Urbanspoon