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100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 75, Pupusas at El Petate

100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 75, Pupusas at El Petate
Photos by Troy Fields

This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 75, Pupusas at El Petate

For someone like me, who isn't as familiar with Salvadoran cuisine as, say, Indian or Vietnamese, every trip to El Petate is an adventure. I don't have a lot of money to travel, never have; visits to restaurants like these have long served as my version of a cheap vacation, made all the better by the fact that I can revisit my vacation destination week after week when I find myself craving the thick, nutty flavor of Salvadoran horchata or the spicy crunch of El Petate's homemade carrot-and-cabbage curtido, which I pile on top of each steaming-hot pupusa.

It's the pupusas that first drew me here, in fact. The thick corn masa discs only come with three choices of fillings here -- queso, chicharrón (pork skin) or revueltos (a mixture of beef, beans and cheese); no loroco (squash blossom) here, sadly -- but they're made to order, hot and thick and tinged with a lovely char around the edges.

100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 75, Pupusas at El Petate

The simple queso pupusas are my favorite, filled with that rough, salty Salvadoran cheese that only barely melts despite the pupusa's turn across a screaming hot griddle. The cheese is an ideal offset to the toothsome chew of the soft masa, all of it brought together with a few spoonfuls from the giant glass jar of curtido that's delivered to your table.

The family-style glass jars are also brought out with a plastic-wrapped spoon (please don't use your own utensils; other people have to eat out of that curtido jar, too) that you'll use to heft out scoops of cabbage and carrots, shredded and immersed in a slightly spicy vinegar base that brings a bright and welcome crunch to the soft, meaty pupusas.

The list so far:

No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F. No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts No. 83: Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge No. 82: Short rib sandwich at Shepherd Park Draught House No. 81: Grilled shrimp po-boy at Pappadeaux No. 80: Dahi puri at Shiv Sagar No. 79: Aporreado at Los Corrales No. 78: Oxtail francobolli at Aldo's Cucina Italiana No. 77: Tonkotsu at Cafe Kubo's No. 76: Spinach danish from Angela's Oven



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