On a cold wet rainy afternoon, I was heading home from work and I happened to be in the Rockville/Montgomery County Area area and I just happened to pass Irene’s Pupusas. I had never had Pupusas out at a restaurant before and I was really hungry so I figured I would give it a shot. This restaurant is not going to win any awards for it’s location, it’s in a sort of run-down shopping center. But it doesn’t matter. The food is amazing.
In the Maryland-Virginia area there is a large immigrant population of Central Americans, largely due to the civil war of the 1980’s in El Salvador and the overall less than ideal living situations in those countries. These folks primarily come from El Salvador or Guatemala, consequently I live in an area that should have amazing Central American cuisine. The only problem? They can be hard to find. They don’t typically have garish signs and names that would clue you into what they are selling, so most folks don’t even get to try this amazing cuisine.
I’ll admit that I was just as ignorant to this cuisine as everybody else until a few years back when I asked an acquaintance who’s from El Salvador what his favorite traditional dish was. He instantly said, “Pupusa.”
What’s a Pupusa? It’s essentially a stuffed corn tortilla, they’re about six inches wide and they’re usually filled with cheese, chicken or pork, and beans. Basically they’re heaven bites. They’re rooted in El Salvadorean heritage, with archealogical ruins showing the tools for making them.
(It should be noted that Honduras also claims to have invented the Pupusa, but eventually ceded the rights to them in the CAFTA-DR, which was a free-trade agreement, I’m not making this up, look it up on wikipedia!)
Anyways, the best place to find Central American cuisine in Maryland (in my opinion) is in Montgomery County, why? Because the Central American community is quite large there, so they have the best spots. Which leads us back to Irene’s.
You walk into a large seating area, since I came in around 4PM it was largely empty. I didn’t really care about ambiance (I rarely do), I was there for the Pupusas and that was it. The menu is filled with tons of other delicious options, but I didn’t come to a Pupusa restaurant for anything but Pupusas.
Your options are: Pork, Chicken, Cheese, Pork with Cheese, Chicken with Cheese, or Cheese and Beans. They’re all two dollars a piece so you can really go nuts with as many as you want. They also have a bunch of ala carte sides if you want, I suggest ordering the fried plantains.
After a short wait, my food was brought out to me. The pupusas were piping hot as were the plantains, they all came with curtido which is the Central American equivalent of kimchi or saurkraut. It’s essentially a pickled(ish) cabbage that’s spicy, it’s delicious and the perfect compliment to the Pupusas.
The plantains were ripe, so that made them extra sweet and delicious. The sweetness compliments the spiciness of the curtido perfectly. I suggest your bite to be a combination of the three (curtido, plantain, and pupusa).
The star of the show as obviously the pupusas, I ordered a pork & cheese, a chicken & cheese, and a solo pork. Each one was heavenly, they’re served piping hot so the cheese is gooey and melty. The pupusa crust whatever you want to call it is crispy but still fluffy without being gritty. The meat is seasoned perfectly and the it’s incredibly tender. Essentially, these pupusas were flawless.
All in all it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time and I will most certainly be back. Oh yeah, all of this only cost 12 bucks!
Parking: Plentiful and Free
Service: Friendly (having a grasp of Spanish is helpful for the menu, but not essential)
Cost: Cheap (they take cash or credit)
Ambiance: Tough to judge because I went at a bad hour, they have a full bar set up too so I imagine it may get busy later in the evenings.
Overall: A+, one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, writing this review made me crave it again! Don’t be intimidated by the not so lovely exterior of the shopping center, this amazing gem awaits you.