A few years ago, after ordering them in a small Silver Spring, Md., restaurant, I became fond of pupusas, El Salvador’s national dish. Then when someone mentioned a restaurant in Cleveland made them, I hustled across town to the place. As I recall, the pupusas were fine, but other the items on the menu disappointed. I never returned.
Still, I kept talking to people about pupusas and one day the owner of a Mexican eatery recommended Pupuseria La Bendicion, about a mile from the other Salvadoran joint. My wife and dropped by the tiny restaurant a few days later and ordered a number of dishes, including pupusas.
The pupusas in particular were very, very good — an opinion that may have been influenced by the open kitchen, allowing us to watch as the pupusas were being made by Senora Ruth (below). She quickly formed dough into a ball and made a small hole and filled it with cheese or meat. Then she flattened and tossed the uncooked pupusa onto a hot griddle.
The kitchen crew (all family members, I think) doesn’t speak much, if any, English. Customers grab a narrow sheet of paper on the counter that lists some two dozen savory dishes (and very low prices) and check off what they want. The kitchen cooks it and someone brings the order to the table.
One downside to eating here: The plates are Styrofoam, though on last night’s stop a melamine plate showed up. Utensils are plastic. I might bring my own next time.
Fans of Mexican food will have to adjust their tastebuds. The thin salsa roja that arrives with every pupusa order, for example, isn’t hot. Indeed, Salvadoran food is bland (at least here) compared to many Mexican dishes, especially those featuring the complex flavors of chipotle, guarillo and ancho peppers.
At La Bendicion the food is on the heavy side. Refried beans are paste-like and pupusas themselves, though grilled, are weighty. So are the tamales. Light, bright flavors go missing for the most part, though cortido, the shredded cabbage that’s dressed lightly with vinegar, may qualify on that count.