There is a certain attitude that develops about food when you have a big appetite and you grow up in the Delta. Actually, to be fair, in the Delta there are a lot of attitudes you develop about food but with regard to eateries in particular it becomes ingrained knowledge that the best of the best are well off the beaten path. They are the places more often described by the square crowd as “seedy”, “shady”, and a myriad of terms that border too closely to blatant prejudice for my patience level. They are the places tucked away so they have to be searched out, the places with homemade hand painted signs, the places with the same regular customers day after day.
Those are the places the snobs and tourists dare not go. The places that aren’t found in the latest once maybe cool but now very gentrified section of town. Those are the places on back county roads only the locals know about and in the city they are found in the neighborhoods you daren’t enter after dark. I, for one, have never been made nervous by such areas. Not that I am not cautious, but rather I have no interest in snubbing my nose at anyone because of where they live or their income level and I certainly won’t turn down great food just because of where the restaurant it was made in is found.
But I digress. Here in Oklahoma City there are a row of taquerias all along Southwest 29th Street in the inner city southside, mixed amongst used tire lots with tall chain link fenced borders, car lots seemingly full of nothing but beat up work trucks, and sporadic graffiti, some from budding taggers others more obviously ominous. In this area is one eatery in particular that I have been desperate to try, Pupusaria El Buen Gusto. Real Salvadoran. Seriously.
The pupusas are to die for and such a steal. We ordered a few selections, including the ayote con queso and queso con loroco both of which were phenomenal, and ate them as a sort of appetizer as for our meal I was dying to try their rellenos de pacaya and Lindsey went with the sopa de mondongo. Easily some of the best pupusas I’ve ever eaten, they were light, fluffy, not at all stingy on the fillings, just the right level of crispy to the exterior, and wonderfully flavorful with bright bursts of corn and fillings rather than one overwhelming the other. And the curtido? Brilliant. I’m not ashamed to admit I ate a serious portion of it by itself instead if as a topping. The pacaya was incredible, bright, bold, perfumed and heady with a rich yet not to overwhelming sauce while the soup was beautifully balanced in its seasonings. Not to mention tripe can be an unnerving thing to order, either amazing or horrid, but theirs was fantastic.
The meal aside, two things about El Buen Gusto stole my heart. First was watching the women work in the kitchen, like watching your own family preparing a meal for you, chatting now and then in high speed Spanish, their arms moving in a dance they know by heart, making me want to jump up and go help and learn and photograph. Second was the horchata. Oh the horchata. It was unreal. None of that canned tinge premade rice milk gets, they made it fresh, so fresh that the cinnamon and sugar still needed to dissolve. It was heaven, icy wonderful heaven and Pupusaria El Buen Gusto officially made it’s way onto my list of favorite off the beaten path eateries.