- Matthew Schniper
- Chilaquilas Salvadoreños give pupusas a bright bath.
She describes the method of coating hands in sunflower oil (local, from Lamar) and scooping hydrated organic masa, placing a respective stuffing in the middle, then clapping the palms together to flatten to a desired disk size, typically 6 inches. Hines has operated Monse’s Taste of El Salvador since 2011 out of a number of commissary kitchens, and for the last few years she’s shared space with Food Designers Catering, which launched Venue 32 event space in the former Motif Jazz Cafe spot. Recently, Food Designers hung up its aprons and offered Hines the building, which she now shares with an allergy-friendly bakery called Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics.
Location Details Monse’s Taste of El Salvador
Given the beautiful space, with ample daylight from a roll-up window wall that leads to a cute patio, plus light woods and metal accents at the bar (now an order counter), Hines naturally opted to start a retail arm, Monse’s Pupuseria. The initial menu — it’s already about to expand with more starters and pupusa flavors — features eight pupusa styles plus sides like curtido and escabeche. The first is a crunchy cabbage and carrot-thread relish in white vinegar seasoned with notable oregano and fresh jalapeño slivers, which only add a touch of heat if not eaten. Escabeche also utilizes a vinegar bath and lands like Italian giardiniera, with piquant bell pepper, green bean, onion and cauliflower pieces.
From current starters, we choose Hines’ exceptional pastelitos (empanadas), which begin with the same masa, but gain a golden hue from achiote powder. Steam snakes out of bitten corners to reveal a hearty, slightly oily filling of chopped veggie bits amidst ground beef. Dipped into a simple yet stellar tomatillo-jalapeño sauce, they’re divine.
To the star attraction, Monse’s offers a trio of vegan pupusas — a killer pinto-garlic; pleasing pinto-green chile; and pinto-loroco, a Central American flower that taste like what a florist’s shop smells like. That taste is a bit more pronounced in a loroco-cheese option, and there’s also cleanly flavored zucchini-cheese, green chile-cheese and black bean-cheese pupusas. All are gooey-gourmet from melted mozzarella and quite filling. Hines’ black beans prove a creamy treat, simply blended in their own water and left fairly bland. In fact, she says, all Salvadoran food’s pretty mild, especially compared to Mexico’s chili-fanatic machismo. For instance, her bright Chilaquilas Salvadoreños aren’t like typical Mexican chilaquiles made with tortilla chips; instead they’re essentially refried, loroco-cheese packed pupusas under an earthy red chile that doesn’t exceed the heat of an anaheim chili, from which it’s partially made.
A daily special of soupy chile verde shows strong with cubes of slow-cooked pork in another mild but flavorful bath of tomatillo-chili sauce. Accompany anything you get with a housemade drink. Refreshing pineapple juice is blended fresh from fruit, no sugar added. Beet juice and a requisite touch of red food coloring, plus a little sugar and chia seeds makes an odd-interesting drink called chan. My favorite’s Monse’s horchata, again unique, with cinnamon undertones but a Nutella-invoking chocolaty nuttiness, from infused cacao supplied by Sweet Elizabeth’s.
All told, these are fine tastes of El Salvador, and I imagine the stacks of pupusas will only grow higher with new demand at Monse’s.