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Pupusería y Restaurante Cuscatleco
There are many reasons to eat at this Salvadoran pupusería—the sweet and featherlight tamal de elote y crema (a masa envelope of corn and cream), the pasteles de carne (stellar palm-size fried meat pockets)—but the least obvious may be the weekend-only hangover cure mondongo, a rich cow’s feet soup. If anyone walks in who needs a little help, “we’re going to prepare mondongo,” says owner Marcos Ortega (pictured below, left).
Inside the bright, white and spotless space, the friendly Ortega greets his regular customers with “Cómo está tu familia?” He immigrated to Chicago from Nicaragua in 1989; his amiable wife, Rina Meza (pictured, right), was born in El Salvador, where her family worked in the restaurant business. If there’s any justice, their Chicago venture will survive. It has your requisite Mexican menu, but the restaurant’s heart is in the “comida de El Salvador” section where you’ll find pupusas, the stuffed and griddled masa pockets that are the archetypal food of El Salvador. The bean-and-cheese and loroco (an edible flower common in Central America) versions are excellent. Along with the mondongo, weekend specialties include sopa de gallina, a rustic hen-and-vegetables soup that Ortega describes as “from the farm—like my mother made it.” We haven’t tried her version, but his, along with a couple of pupusas, would be hard to leave behind.—Nicholas Day
3125 W Lawrence Ave between Albany Ave and Troy St (773-539-0977). El: Brown to Kedzie. Bus: 81 Lawrence (24 hrs), 82 Kimball. Lunch and dinner (closed Wed). Average main course: $8.