Takeout review: Pupusas from Café Agnes | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Takeout review: Pupusas from Café Agnes

click to enlarge CP PHOTO: MAGGIE WEAVER
CP photo: Maggie Weaver

Last Tuesday, my phone rang warning me I had an upcoming event in 30 minutes: order pupusas from Café Agnes. 

Every week, Café Agnes, a small Salvadoran farmers market stand, takes a limited number of online orders for frozen pupusas and tamale dinner kits. And for the past few weeks, I have missed the cutoff and thus, missed my opportunity for pupusas (the cafe usually sells out within hours). 

But this time, my calendar kept me on track. Within minutes, I had ordered chicharron (pork) pupusas and a half-pint of salsa negra to be delivered the following Sunday.

A few days later, I sprinted out of my house after receiving a text image of my front door with a bag in front of it. The pupusas ($15 for a four-pack) were wrapped and bagged neatly, accompanied by salsa roja and curtido (pickled cabbage slaw), and my salsa negra.

I fried up my pupusas according to the café’s heating instructions, a simple method of cooking the corn cake stuffed with pork and quesillo cheese — pupusas are related to Colombian and Venezuelan arepas, like a stuffed flatbread — for four minutes on each side.

click to enlarge CP PHOTO: MAGGIE WEAVER
CP photo: Maggie Weaver

The process felt almost too easy for how good these turned out. The pupusas were crisp and hot, the quesillo was melted, binding the stuffed flatbread together. The pork added a welcome saltiness, pairing nicely with the simplicity of corn-based dough and cheese. 

Traditionally, pupusas are topped with both salsa roja and curtido. Café Agnes absolutely nails the salsa roja; it’s a bit smokey, not as light as you would expect a tomato salsa to be. It brings out the flavor of the pork, mellowed out again by the masa. 

The curtido is easily the most vibrant piece of the meal if only for its color, a gorgeous, deep purple. But even if it was a dull brown, the cabbage slaw would be no less delicious. It adds the zing missed in other areas of the dish.

Though salsa negra is not a traditional pairing for pupusas, rather, a special offered by Café Agnes the week I ordered, it was an interesting complement to the other flavors. You only need a bit — it brings a good amount of spice — and the flavor is completely unexpected. Every taste starts off with a surprisingly sweet note that seamlessly moves through the surrounding flavors, ending with a swift kick of hot pepper. I couldn’t be more thankful that it came in a half-pint; once my pupusas are gone, I plan to use it on everything else in my kitchen. 

A reminder to order pupusas from Café Agnes is now a reoccurring, weekly event on my calendar. If you enjoy a great meal that involves minimal cooking, I strongly suggest adding it to your calendar too. 

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