Every New Yorker has had a taco (in fact, we’re undergoing a renaissance of Mexican cuisine). Arepas, lesser-known corn flatbreads from Venezuela and Colombia, are growing in popularity. Pupusas, however, are the Latin American sandwich you probably haven’t tried yet. Cabalito (13 Essex Street; 212-456-7899) is the place to get a taste. The nine-month-old shop offers a super cheap lunch special featuring two pupusas with choice of house-made lemonade or horchata for $8.50.
The hearty Salvadoran dish consists of a handmade corn tortilla stuffed with a mix of cheese, meat, and/or veggies — kind of like an empanada/arepa/gordita hybrid, a pancake with ingredients baked inside. Thin tomato salsa and curtido, a crunchy and lightly fermented cabbage-and-carrot salad, are traditionally served on the side.
Cabalito aims to educate New Yorkers on the joys of the pupusa. The small L.E.S. storefront offers just over a half-dozen variations. The most traditional are the revueltas ($3.75), stuffed with cheese, beans, and fried pork, as well as the loroco y queso ($3). The latter is a vegetarian rendition with cheese and the Central American flower loroco — it has a pleasant earthy flavor, nutty with distinct artichoke notes. Chorizo y queso ($3.75) is another popular option, savory and slightly sweet. And the shop even serves a vegan hongos y frijoles ($3.75) with portobello mushrooms and beans. Any two should definitely do the trick.
While the pupusas are far from expensive on their own, the lunch deal is worth a trip because of the drinks, which demand sampling even if you’re not a fan of flavored beverages. The fresco de chia ($3.50) is Cabalito’s version of strawberry lemonade — made with chia seeds, it’s about as far from American lemonade as you can get. It’s more like a juice, not sickeningly sweet. And the horchata ($3.50) is legit. Made in the Mexican style from rice milk, the drink is rich with vanilla and cinnamon.