Collier’s Weekly: On the Pupusa Trail

There are great pupusas at Brookline’s La Cocina de Betty — and that’s a reminder that just about everything can be found around here, but you do have to look.


One day last week, I heard two references to pupusas.

This struck me as unusual because I wasn’t sure I had heard any previous mentions of pupusas at all — let alone two in the same day. Naturally, I had two questions: “What are pupusas?” and “Where can I get some?”

The answer to the first question, according to Bon Appétit, is that pupusas are an El Salvadoran dish, usually presented as flour pouches containing meat, cheese or beans. (If you’re familiar with arepas, imagine them with some stuff inside.) They’re ubiquitous in large parts of Central America; my lack of knowledge was plainly a matter of my own ignorance, and I was eager to rectify that.

The second question — regarding where they could be found — was easy, as the internet swiftly pointed me to La Cocina de Betty, a small restaurant on Broadway Avenue in Beechview. I stopped by on Sunday afternoon and found the place absolutely packed; the only available table was one in the back corner being used to fold napkins.

It was worth the short wait. In addition to the delicious juice and perfect pollo taco I tried, the pupusas — here made with corn rather than flour, with five stuffing options including pork belly, cheese and beans — are wonderful. It’s comfort food of the best variety, filling, warm and delicious.

I heartily recommend a trip to La Cocina de Betty — and, by the way, “Pittsburgh Medium” Marjorie Rivera just endorsed the taco joint across the street in our July issue. Beechview has long been overflowing with great food; this trip was a reminder.

Moreover, though, it was a reminder of a facet of Pittsburgh that can be both a blessing and a curse: You can find just about everything around here — but you’re gonna have to look.

We tend to stick pretty close to our neighborhoods and routines. Some combination of geography, neighborhood loyalty and sturdy Rust-Belt stubbornness tends to keep us yinzers going back to our go-tos time and again. There’s merit to that habit; being a loyal patron of our favorite places is what keeps them in business, after all.

But it also leads us to miss treasures that may be just around the corner. I found myself curious about a food item, so I set out on a quest to find it … only to realize that a great place was just 10 minutes from my house, in a neighborhood I could easily pop over to for lunch any day but probably haven’t set foot in this year.

There are discoveries like this on nearly every street in town. I included Flavor of Puerto Rico, an unparalleled yet largely unheralded spot in Mount Oliver, in this year’s Best of the ’Burgh selections; in the same roundup, writer Denise Bonura identified a delectable, gluten-free bakery on Perry Highway; food editor Kristy Locklin just found a killer (steamed!) burger in Blawnox. And if you’re not routinely driving through Mount Oliver, down Perry Highway or to Blawnox, you’d need a recommendation (and probably some cajoling) to discover any of them.

I know we’re always going to keep our tried-and-true favorites thriving. But we also need to strike out to different corners of our own hometowns to find what we’re missing.

Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had these great pupusas. I might still not even know what pupusas are. (They’re really good, is what they are.) 

Categories: Collier’s Weekly