Wondering what to get your valentine? Try a heart-shaped pupusa!

The Spanish version is here

While cards, flowers and teddy bears are some of today’s go-to gifts for Valentine’s Day, traditionally, one of the quickest ways to reach your loved one’s heart was with food. That’s why we have Spanish proverbs such as ‘el amor entra por el estómago’ (love enters through the stomach) or ‘barriga llena, corazón contento’ (full belly, happy heart).

Luckily for many, there is a place in Los Angeles that fuses love and flavor — and you can get there by taking Line 33 from Metro. It is called La Pupusa Urban Eatery, a Salvadoran restaurant in Pico Union. Its claim to fame? Delicious heart-shaped pupusas.

The traditional pupusa, the national dish of El Salvador, is round, small, and designed as a single serving, but Juan Saravia – owner of the establishment – gave it a special touch. ​​“The portion is for two people,” he says.“We made it bigger so you can share it with your partner or friends.” Additionally, you can order it with up to two types of filling and put one in each half of the heart.

“We launched it four years ago, just during February,” says 43-year-old Saravia. Since then, more than 1,000 heart-shaped pupusas have been sold and have become so popular that the dish is now on the menu year-round. “It was a success,” he says, “people really liked it.”

The pupusa, a type of thick round tortilla made with corn, is typically filled with cheese, refried beans, shredded pork and/or loroco (an edible flower from Central America) and is eaten with curtido (lightly fermented cabbage relish) and salsa. At La Pupusa Urban Eatery, you can also find unusual fillings such as mushrooms, pumpkin and spinach with cheese. That’s because the restaurant sells traditional dishes as well as what Saravia refers to as “fusion food.”

“My family is from Usulutan, El Salvador, but I was born in Los Angeles, a city full of diversity. I grew up with friends from different cultures from whom I learned their cuisine. That’s why I decided to have traditional and fusion food,” explains Saravia.

That’s why you can find traditional Salvadoran fare at La Pupusa Urban Eatery ––like pupusas, fried yucca, ‘sopa de pata’ (cow’s feet), ‘pan con pollo’ (stewed chicken and bread), empanadas, fried mojarra and more.

But you can also find dishes like ‘la mexicana’, a pupusa dough that features the meat on top of the dough instead of inside, accompanied by cream, avocado and pico de gallo. You can order the tamipan, a bread with Salvadoran tamale with curtido and sauce. And there is also the bolo soup, which is made with chorizo, but Saravia adds thick, chewy udon noodles frequently used in Japanese cuisine.

Saravia confesses that there are people who have criticized him for breaking the rules of the “traditional” cuisine. “There will always be criticism and competition,” he says. “The risks are not easy, but there will always be room for a new idea and a chance to innovate.”

And he is right. Today, his restaurant, which opened in 2017, is about to expand in order to welcome more customers. La Pupusa Urban Eatery offers over 35 dishes as well as a secret menu that changes every three months and his social media @LaPupusaDTLA, has almost 70,000 followers on Instagram. The business also do delivery and catering services for everything from quinceañeras to school events and weddings.

Juan Saravia is the owner of La Pupusa Urban Eatery. / Photo: Mey Lyn Mitteenn.

Saravia fell in love with cooking because of his grandmother Maria Socorro, who taught her grandson the secrets of Salvadoran food. “I saw how long it took her to prepare bread with chumpe (turkey) every Christmas. Now that she is no longer with me, that dish reminds me a lot of her. That’s why I think food is powerful, it can lead you to back to a beautiful memory.”

The owner of La Pupusa Urban Eatery is proud to be able to serve his diners in Los Angeles what he says is the closest to his heart: a little bit of his Salvadoran culture.

La Pupusa Urban Eatery

Where: 1051 W Washington Blvd., Los Angeles

Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and federal holidays.

Telephone: (213) 749-4573

Go Metro: Take Line 33 to the Venice / Union stop.

 

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