There’s only a handful of things that I could eat every day without getting sick of them. Pupusas are one of them. And luckily, the ones at Pupuseria La Cabanita are some of the best in town.
Pupusas stuffed with zucchini and gooey queso blanco. Pupusas stuffed with fried beans and smoky griddled pork. Pupusas stuffed with jalapeños and ricotta-like queso fresco. No matter the variety, you can peek into the kitchen to watch the cooks at La Cabanita shaping the alkaline masa dough and slapping the stuffed flatbreads on the griddle. Every order arrives tableside with caramelized cheese oozing from the seams. And if you need extra accoutrements, the restaurant has you covered.
I was equally besotted with the vibrant slaw served alongside every steaming plate of pupusas, a chopped blend of cabbage and bell peppers stained a sunny yellow from thinly sliced carrots. Zesty and acidic with a hint of heat from dried chili flakes, the condiment was the perfect foil to the savory snack.
The strength of Pupuseria La Cabanita’s signature dish made up for some of the weaker items on the menu, an extensive list of Salvadoran and Mexican specialties. A steaming order of sopa de res — beef stew, for the uninitiated — couldn’t compare with the version at Ana’s Restaurant, another Salvadoran space further east on the Golden Mile. There, the rich broth creates a beefy home for slow-cooked rib and perfectly al dente vegetables. La Cabanita’s sopa was just a little overstewed, with soft cabbage and the occasional green bean floating in a broth without the same depth or complexity. A squeeze of lime added some needed acidity, but I could take or leave the dish, usually one of my favorites.
When it comes to Salvadoran specialties, though, the restaurant really stretches its legs. I relished every bite of the pescado frito, a golden-brown tilapia served head-on with rice and thick puréed black beans. Pick through the crispy fish and find perfectly flaky flesh, seasoned simply with salt and accentuated with another squeeze of lime.
I loved, too, the asado Salvadoreño, a plate of griddled meat served sizzling on a cast-iron plate. Sure, I could take or leave the shrimp, tightly curled and overcooked by the time they reached the table. But the steak and chicken were tender and flavorful, served alongside nicely charred green peppers and crisp grilled onions. The chorizo was bright red and packed with flavor, sprinkled with wilted cilantro. It was the ideal meal to accompany a glass of iced marañon, a cashew fruit juice that tastes like a blend of guava and apple.
Stick to the staples at La Cabanita and you’ll leave happy. The low-key restaurant is as far down the Golden Mile as you can get, too — the perfect last-minute stop before a trip out of Frederick.
Follow Kate Masters on Twitter @kamamasters