There are dozens of Mexican taquerias in Nashville these days. You’d figure that the growth in the Hispanic population would lead to restaurants featuring the specialties of other Latin American countries, but these joints are far fewer and often don’t last long. Pupuseria La Usuluteca has been turning out El Salvadoran food for about three years and the longevity is well deserved. They have excellent pupusas and a number of other unique El Salvadoran dishes.
We found out about La Usuluteca from a reader named Sarah, who fell in love with pupusas while she lived in Washington, D.C. Now in Nashville, she has been on a quest of sorts. A Salvadorian neighbor of hers made the recommendation and we thank them both.
La Usuluteca is on Murfreesboro Pike just past Bell Road in Antioch. It’s a long trip for us, but well worth it. The interior is bright with a high ceiling and plenty of solid wood tables for a rustic feel. The menu is fun to navigate and made easy with English translations, and help from a friendly staff. Pupusas are thick, stuffed corn masa tortillas often served with curtido, which is basically a vinegar cole slaw. At Usuluteca they come stuffed with pork, cheese, bean and cheese, and Loroco, which is a green flower popular in El Salvadorian cooking. At some places in town pupusas are served up oily, flat and quite a bit like quesadillas. La Usuluteca seems to pan fry the pupusas gently and with just a slight char. They are light and substantial at the same time. The curtido adds a tang and a light tomato broth gives it a little brightness. The result is a real treat.
The rest of the menu includes tamales, which come in chicken, or corn and cream. You can order the corn and cream tamales either fried or baked. The fried version is rich, cakey and delicious. Antojitos translates to snack in many Mexican restaurants. Here though, the section goes a bit further, and includes at least one full meal. Bread and chicken sounds odd at first, and then when you hear the ingredients you realize it’s the El Salvadorian version of how Southern joints often serve fried chicken. The dish is basically bread, with a layer of fresh tomato, radish and cucumber, and then a big piece of lightly fried chicken, topped with a mayo based version of curtido slaw and a light, savory brown sauce. It looks like a big mountain of food at first. Then you dig down through the layers and realize that all of the flavors (savory and tangy) and textures (crispy and chewy) combine for a truly great take on fried chicken. It is one of my new favorite chicken dishes.
The main menu includes several other versions of chicken, as well as steaks, stewed beef and some dishes with eggs. One popular item when we visited was soup, which comes in several varieties depending on the weekend day. We saw one fellow splitting open mussels and getting every last spoonful of broth from a huge bowl of seafood soup. There are also beef and chicken sopas. For the more adventurous there is traditional Mondongo, which is diced and slow cooked tripe.
Veggie Eater: I don’t believe that I’ve ever had Salvadorian food before, but I assure you that my Salvadorian cuisine drought is now over. I LOVED this place. The interior is cheery without being garish. Appears the owners actually popped for both décor and restaurant supplies/appliances. And it’s clean. Enough about the restaurant, let’s get to the food. I had the bean and cheese pupusa as recommended by Sarah. The beans and cheese are a smeared in between masa that is about the thickness of a pancake. They seem to be pan or griddle fried on cast iron, as the masa took on a bit of a smoky flavor. I also had to take advantage of the tamales; I rarely see a veggie friendly version. Mine were corn and were fried; street food at its best. The tamales come with crema; don’t be scared by the color of crema; it’s supposed to be that color and simply tastes better than sour cream. The salsa was light and tangy. The waitresses smile broadly and are very friendly. There are quite a few veggie friendly items on the menu and not your usual bean and cheese burrito or cheese enchilada fare that I am usually reduced to at Latino restaurants. I need friends and family to come visit me soon, so I have an excuse to stop in (it’s right by the airport). Or, I might just have to make the trek just for the joy of it.