Clash of the Pupusa Titans: Pupusas Mama Tia II vs. Michoacan Tortas y Pupusas

Just over a mile from the airport outside San Salvador you will find a tiny village ripe with what many would call the national snack of the Central American country, El Salvador--the pupusa. In the village of Olocuilta little shops sell these masa harina cakes, which are filled with any combination of beans, cheese, pork, yucca, shrimp, loroco, or squash.

There are so many shops selling the pupusa, "the competition is great so the prices are very low," explains, Eduardo Ventura, the manager of Pupusas Mama Tia II in Carrollton, which is owned by his family. "You can find pupusas for 25 cents a piece."

This major pupusa Mecca is where you can find people of all backgrounds scurrying to find the perfect pupusa as they watch the women of the village crank out dozens of these little pockets of flavor. Olocuilta distinguishes itself by also offering a special rice flour pupusa that is made only with beans and cheese, along with the traditional corn flour version that has unlimited possibilities for ingredients.

"Every Salvadoran knows about Olocuilta," Ventura adds, "it is very popular even with tourists".

All pupusas are traditionally served with a curtido, a slightly fermented cabbage salad that is crunchy and dressed with vinegar. The salad is generally combined with carrots and onions, and sometimes red chiles. Since the pupusas are served piping hot off the griddle, the curtido acts as a cooling agent to take the edge off the molten queso fresco.

Dallas has growing pockets of Salvadoran immigrants who can be found in Carrollton, Irving and Garland, making these spots the happy hunting grounds for locating a fine pupusa. We took our search to Carrollton, and today offer up a few fine examples for our Toque to Toque challenge in what we happily offer as the Clash of the Pupusa Titans.

What makes the savory dish so delectable is the fresh made-to-order by hand meat and cheese filled masa disk, which is thick and brimming with your choice of fillings.The griddle marks are signs of its flavor, along with the fastidious and expert nature of the pupusa maker.

Our first visit for pupusa took us to Michoacan Tortas y Pupusas. Unlike the name might imply, Michoacan has little to do with the coastal Mexican state and is owned by Salvadoran immigrants. The English spoken at the tiny eatery is sparse, and it is located off Josey Lane not too far north of the George Bush. Fellow food enthusiasts will note it's the same shopping center as Hong Kong Royal, one of the better dim sum finds in the Dallas area.

The menu at Michoacan is fairly vast, offering daily fish specials, tortas, hamburguesas, and of course, our coveted pupusa. Very little served at the tiny mom and pop shop can be considered expensive by any standard..

After placing an order you are asked to take a seat and wait for the dish to be brought to your table. This gives you an opportunity to possibly order more, which often can be the case with the pupusa, because they are fairly small, weighing less than the average taco. A few of these pockets can satisfy, but a larger appetite like ours might require more.

The most common and popular is the revueltas pupusa, which contains queso blanco that has been thoroughly mixed with chicharon. In the Mexican world, you would equate chicharon with the skin of the pig, that when fried, makes chicharones. But in El Salvador, chicharon is a term for pork that has been cooked down to a tenderness loaded with flavor.The pork is then mashed and mixed with the cheese, then dolloped onto a mass of masa and formed into the rounded patties that are the pupusa.

Keep up, this gets good.

I ordered a few of the revueltas and sat waiting for my pupusas. I noted that the tiny restaurant also offered another traditional version that contained loroco, which is the flower of a vining plant imported from Central America.

My pupusa came steaming within a few minutes along with the requisite side of curtido. This salad had some mild red chiles, but was cool enough to take the sear off the flaming hot but expertly made pupusa. The exterior is buttery, crisp and pliable with the extreme heat of the filling.

A great example of pupusa. The owner Ramone said when I come back he could make any pupusa, even if it's not on the menu. I finished one and quickly was off to my next location.

Walking into Pupusa Mama Tita II, which is located on the corner of Belt Line and Webb Chapel on the cusp of Farmers Branch, I found Eduardo Ventura behind the counter helping a customer. I waited my turn and ordered another round of revuelitas and a horchata, the rice milk beverage that can also take the sting off a pupusa.

Mama Tita II has but a few tables, and is mainly used as a take away restaurant. Ventura mentioned that when he goes out to play futbol in Irving everyone calls him Mama Tita since he is often associated with his family's restaurant. This might be considered fighting words, but the largish Ventura assured me that it made him proud to be associated with the popular dish.

The pupusa that Ventura makes is every bit as delicious as you will find in Dallas. Mama Tita's has a bit more char marks from the grill, but still a buttery exterior. The slight char lends a dimension of flavor, making this one of the most difficult challenges I have encountered in Toque history.There has to be a winner, right? Well, the only winner today was Toque itself and our happy belly.

For an unprecedented challenge, we award equal Toque honors to both pupusa titans and encourage visits to these tiny and extremely proud establishments.

Michoacan Tortas y Pupusas
3030 North Joesy Lane, Carrollton

Pupusas Mama Tita II
1012 Webb Chapel, Carrollton

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Steven Doyle

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