tortilla and many incorrigibly think of Mexico as its country of origin. Hey, it’s an understandable misconception, prolific as that cuisine is, but the tortilla’s history started with the Aztecs, thus making it Mesoamerican.
The Salvadorian variety used with their pupusa is a Tortillaphilia favorite, and here in Olympia, Wash. you can find some very decent ones at El Guanaco. The downtown spot dishes up fourteen different variations, with fillings ranging from zucchini to crushed chicken. I sampled the latter, in addition to one stuffed with cheese and pork. The combination plate was rounded out with a pork tamale, because why would anyone not have a tamale when presented with the opportunity?
Served steaming hot, pupusas are pure comfort food. The tortillas are thick, though El Guanaco’s weren’t quite as fluffy as those I’ve had in Belize. That is unfortunate, though they were still within the margin of what a tortillaphile would consider common decency. Not too dense, in other words.
The fillings held up very well, and the chicken, in particular, had a good zing to it. The spice combination gave the palate just a tinge of chile-smoke.
A tamale can, in my experience, be either good or bad — rarely do you find anything in between.1 El Guanaco’s were firmly in the good category, with delicate masa and a spicy pork stuffing. In all its simplicity, few things are more satisfying than a good tamale, particularly when the rain or snow is pounding the ground as often is the case during the season we’re facing.
And a special shout-out to the beans. The lard-base will make it a non-starter for vegetarians, but omnivores will be treated to a perfect amount of salt in a good semi-soft consistency.
Would I walk through the aforementioned rain or snow to enjoy a good El Guanaco pupusa? Maybe not the snow, but I’d certainly brave the rain. El Guanaco is a good and affordable spot, and while they might not serve the best pupusa I’ve ever had, it is still of high quality, particularly when paired with a good tamale.
1 Although I suppose great, good, or bad would be more accurate.