The phrase “off the beaten path” defines El Pulgarcito to a T. Featuring Salvadoran food, it’s in Merriam, Kansas at 5921 Merriam Drive. It even made the list of memorable Kansas restaurants, so clearly I’m not the only one who has been charmed by this friendly little joint. It used to be more of a hole-in-the-wall, but recently completed some renovations (nothing major, not to worry).
Salvadoran cuisine has similarities to Mexican food, but the sauces and preparation are somewhat different. Though it looked like a traditional tamale, the corn tamale was more fluffy like cornbread and came with butter, which made sense after I tasted it. The cheese enchiladas contained an enormous amount of a white cheese that didn’t melt the way cheddar or Monterey jack does, but my husband loved it. The enchilada sauce had more tomato than chile, the beans were refried but surprisingly flavorful and the rice was buttery.
Pupusas are the thing here. Don’t even think of going to El Pulgarcito without ordering one…or two. A pupusa looks like a thick pancake, but it’s made with masa flour and stuffed with a choice of pork, cheese, beans or any combination thereof. Unlike a quesadilla, you don’t see the filling until you cut into the pupusa, as it’s completed enclosed. But before eating what looks like a very plain dish, pile on the curtido, the Salvadoran equivalent of Korean kimchi. This vinegary cabbage is a slaw that has onions and jalapenos and is great on its own, but it’s a triumph on the pupusa. Top it with some of the red hot sauce sitting on the table in a ketchup bottle and you have your own little masterpiece just waiting to be devoured. The combination of the heat and crunch of the slaw and the softness of the filling is a winning combination.
The server was a gem. Rather than snickering at our ignorance of the cuisine, she was patient as I asked questions in an effort to learn more about ingredients, etc.