Since it's neither Salvadoran nor Honduran, Fort Lauderdale's Guatemala Restaurant (3673 Davie Blvd., 954-792-9737) is not the first, second, or 19th place that most people would look for pupusas, but the tiny establishment with just five stools and a bit of tiled counter gets them right. Order one as a snack or a couple for a quick meal ($2 each), and one of the women in the kitchen will put a cast-iron skillet on the stove, turn up the flame, and get to work. She scoops a ball of white cornmeal masa with her fingers from a plastic bowl and presses it into a tortilla. It then gets a thin layer of fillings like cheese, beans, shredded pork, or the dried or pickled buds of loroco flowers. Then a second fresh tortilla is made and placed on top. The two layers get sealed together at the edges, and the resulting pancake goes into the lightly oiled skillet, where it's seared until the outside begins to crisp.
The result is a thinner, lighter cousin of a filled Colombian or Venezuelan arepa or a Mexican gordita, and they're fine as is: crisp on the outside, with smooth, creamy-sweet cornmeal inside. There's enough filling to add flavor and texture without weighing the whole thing down. But if you eat a pupusa that way, you're missing the whole point. The condiments are key. Your pupusas will come with a cold, pickled-cabbage slaw called curtido. The recipe varies depending upon the cook's hometown or maybe on her or his personal tastes. Sometimes there's oregano, sometimes slices of carrot. Sometimes it's mild, but I like it best when it's spiked with hot peppers. Don't treat it like a side dish, though. Take a forkful of pupusa, a bit of curtido, and a splash of the tangy red salsa and you'll be rewarded with a burst of colliding flavors, temperatures, and textures. The warm, mellow, soft pupusa contrasts wonderfully with the cold, vinegary bite of the curtido, and the sweet tangy salsa ties it all together.
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Incidentally, the other food is pretty good too. Besides regional mainstays like grilled meats with rice and beans and meal-sized bowls of soup, there's another bit of cross-border one-upmanship in the repertoire. Sporting the same handmade-to-order tortillas, the small selection of soft tacos surpasses those at the Mexican taqueria down the street.