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Thursday, November 4,2010

Nice pupusas

By Clay Fong

While most people have bad dreams about missing final exams or involuntarily appearing naked in front of a crowd, the foodie’s nightmare is different. A dedicated diner’s disturbing visions revolve around discovering the perfect ethnic hole-in-the-wall, known but to a few.

 

Eventually word gets out, and this eatery’s popularity forces it to expand into bigger, more posh digs. At that instant, to borrow a phrase from the TV vernacular, the restaurant in question jumps the proverbial shark. Once-generous portions shrink, genial service devolves into the surly, and sublime cuisine slides into the mediocre.

Such was my fear for Boulder’s Pupusas Sabor Hispano, which decamped from the west side of Broadway venue to bigger, more posh digs across the street. Sure, the old location was a wee bit cramped, and during cold months things got chilly as crowds standing in the doorway let the draft creep in. The new space, once a coffee shop, is well-lit by virtue of sunlight streaming in through tall windows, and also offers substantially more seating.

On a recent lunch with friend Janice, I was slightly alarmed to discover the salsa stations were hard to find, tucked away in dark corners of the restaurant. Fortunately, the menu and prices are in line with those of the former venue. Still present were the namesake Salvadorean pupusas, and staples typically associated with Mexican cuisine such as menudo, burritos and tacos.

Our first dish consisted of an ample basket of $1.75 crisp tortilla chips possessing the appearance of a mass-produced offering. They were fine, though, and served as a more-than-adequate partner to the bargain-priced $3 guacamole. This lushly verdant dip was a reasonably unadorned preparation that highlighted the essential flavor and texture of ripe butter pear. Attractively presented in a fried tortilla cup more decorative than edible, this dip should satisfy any guac purist who doesn’t want to be distracted by strong flavors of pepper or citrus.

 

Vegetarian Janice appreciated the abundance of meatless options. She ordered two of the $4 pupusas — grilled cornmeal patties stuffed with fillings ranging from cheese to more complicated preparations of pepper and pork. Janice went for the loroco con queso containing fiddle-head fern and cheese. Favorably reminiscent of a grilled cheese sandwich, this pupusa was elevated by the snap of delicately crisp-tender greens. Even better was the bean version, which was surprisingly complex, with a nearly smoky taste accented by intriguing spicing. This flavor profile contrasted favorably with the accompanying spicy slaw and tomato salsa. If these patties had arrived at the table a few degrees warmer, they would have been even better.

A $9.25 chile rellenos platter left little to be desired if one was expecting, as I was, a textbook combination plate-style presentation. Moderately sized and spiced peppers encased gooey cheese with the ubiquitous sides of rice and beans. Comforting but still spicy, it struck an ideal balance between peppery heat and creamy dairy.

Finally, there was Pupusas’ celebrated $3 flan. On my first visit some time back, I pegged this custard as a ridiculously sensual and satisfying sweet. It fully retained its seductive qualities of light cinnamon seasoning, impossibly silky texture and deep richness. As evidenced by this signature dessert, a change of venue does not equate to the nightmarish vision of Pupusas jumping the shark.

Clay’s Obscurity Corner Jumping the shark

Once the province of the defunct web site www.jump theshark.com, the phrase “jumping the shark” refers to the moment when a TV series begins an irreversible downward spiral. The term itself derives from an infamous Happy Days episode where a leather-jacketed Fonz literally jumps a shark while waterskiing. Archetypical examples of jumping the shark include the replacement of a key character, like when Dr. Joel Fleischman was replaced by Phil Capra on Northern Exposure. Another portent of shark-jumping is the late-in-the-run introduction of a gimmicky new character, such as the notorious cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch.

Pupusas Sabor Hispano 4550 N. Broadway Boulder 303-444-1729

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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