100 Favorite Dishes

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

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.

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.

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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