El Pulgarcito: 5921 Merriam Dr.

 Posted by at 6:52 pm
Jun 272008
 

Exterior

First of all, a big shout out to reader JH, who suggested I try this place out a month or two back. I truly appreciate all the great suggestions I get, and just wish that I could hit them all in a reasonable time frame. The life of an insatiable glutton is never complete.

Merriam Drive is turning into the best restaurant road on the wrong side of 39th street, what with Grandstand Burgers, Coyoacan, Woodyard BBQ, and now El Pulgarcito, which could be my favorite of the lot.

I haven’t done any research on the place, I didn’t check Yelp or Chowhound or other websites of dubious value to get a sense of what to expect. I have only been to one other Salvadoran restaurant before (now closed) and was pretty impressed at the combination of earthy, spicy, and tangy flavors.

Salvadoran food is analogous to Mexican cuisine, and even features some of the same names: tacos, tamales, burritos, etc. But it ain’t Mexican food, certainly not the type we have come to expect in Kansas City. For one Salvadoran dishes make judicious use of cheese, not the overabundance much Tex-Mex fare has made us accustomed to. Many items incorporate a simple combination of starch (tortilla, dough, bread), meat and spice.

Again, don’t forget I’m no expert on Salvadoran food, these are just my impressions. Is there a Salvadoran in the house?!

With that in mind I’ll go on to say that the pupusa is probably the hallmark of Salvadoran cuisine. El Pulgarcito has a damn good pupusa. It’s basically a flat dough pocket filled with your delicious choice of meat or cheese or whatever. On each table, the restaurant places a large canister of spicy cole-slaw type stuff, known as curtido. Unlike cole slaw, this mixture is vinegary and a little spicy with no sweet undertones.

Curtido

Combined with some mysterious red sauce in a squirt bottle, this was the perfect match for a rich, earthy pupusa (did I just write “rich, earthy pupusa”? ew, yes I did). The pork inside was some seriously delicious stuff, with a deep red color and shredded finely. Ahhh, God it was good.

Pupusas

Pupusas

I also ordered a pork tamale, which had excellent flavor but I found the consistency of the masa to be a tad gritty and not firm enough. Basically it was a little mushy. Did I eat the whole thing? you bet your ass I did.

Tamal

Rice and beans were both great–homemade and well seasoned. The rice was a tad overcooked, but it had probably been sitting in a pot for a while so I’ll give them a break on this one.

What about the atmosphere you ask?

Interior

Well, it’s charming, not because they try to be charming, but it’s just a humble, divey, honest little place. It has windows and booths on three sides with a counter in the center of the room. The whole joint is run by one waitress and one cook. The waitress is very good at her job, much more talkative with Spanish-speaking customers but I think this is just a language comfort thing. I was in and out in less than 1/2 hour. When I left about 1:30, the smallish restaurant was mostly full.

As for clientele, it varies widely inasmuch as a room full of latinos can vary widely. There was a hard-looking guy with a bimbette having a hangover brunch, a young dad and his 3 kids, a single businessman on his lunch break, a middle aged well dressed woman, some guys with repair shop uniforms…you get the idea.

I wish a had a newspaper or something to read while I was there but it was really no big deal. Hell of a lot better than having a television there. Actually, the lack of a TV vastly improves my impression of the place now that I think about it. I’m not a TV nazi, but 99% of the time, if someone else picks the channel, I lose.

Anyhow, El Pulgarcito gets the DLC stamp of approval, for what that’s worth. There is a lot more on the menu that I need to try, namely the whole fried fish I saw coming out of the kitchen to several tables. I overheard a conversation in Spanish between a guy who ate this fish and the waitress. Now, I don’t understand much Spanish but I’m pretty sure he was saying, “I’d like to put that delicious fish all over my private parts.” Yeah it looked and smelled quite spectacular. I’m not big on soup but there were several varieties on the menu and the soup looked homemade, authentic and smelled great.

Oh by the way, prices are good, but not as cheap as your typical Mexican joint. I spent $10 with tip. Of course that included a delicious tamarind drink so you cheapskates can stick with water.

Read more:

Yelp

El Pulgarcito on Urbanspoon

  13 Responses to “El Pulgarcito: 5921 Merriam Dr.”

  1. Hey, if you ever want to venture a little east on Johnson Drive, I’ll meet you at Werner’s! On Thursdays, they grill specialty brats in front of the store. Great family-owned spot. And … I’ll even give you a a robot demo at my work afterwards!

    Werner’s
    5736 Johnson Drive

  2. Robot demo? are you serious? I’m so there!

    I’ve heard about Werner’s a couple times via this blog but thought they only did the sausage thing on weekends. I can usually do an early-ish lunch on Thursdays (gotta be back by 1pm). Let’s get in touch after the holiday. Thanks!

  3. Sounds like you didn’t do any pants-droppin’ while you were there. Unfortunate for the patrons at El Pulgarcito.
    I didn’t hear mention of any green-striped underwear so I’m guessing I wasn’t there the day you went…

  4. holy crap, I didn’t realize this was the same place! That makes it even funnier than it already was.

    Although I liked the food so much that i was tempted to dro p y pants and have my way with a pupusa.

    Too much? yeah, sorry.

  5. Were the pupusas the fried or griddled variety? They look griddled.

  6. UE, These weren’t fried, or at least not that I could tell. By the way I tend to use canned (stolen) pictures rather than real ones. I guess this is misleading, huh?

  7. So its a sure bet if I take a date I’ll score some papusa?
    Sorry.

  8. MM–it’s actually spelled and pronounced “pupusa,” so I’m not sure it’s something you would actually want to score. You know, unless you;re into that sort of thing.

  9. My ex husband was from El Salvador so I’ve known of this place for quite a while.
    Today is the first time I’ve read your blog – happy to see this on here!
    I work on Johnson Drive so I have several new places to try out – many thanks.

  10. Thanks Kara. Be sure to let me know if you encounter places I should try!

  11. I've been to El Pulgarcito many times. DELISH! I'm not originally from the area, I grew up in SW Kansas where there is an abundance of Latino people. We had family friends from El Salvador (my family is from Mexico).

    And I can say from having Salvadorean food many times, this place is the real deal. The pupusas are some of the best I've ever had. The best being from an Abuelita (grandma) that was visiting in the states, and we all know that you can't ever beat a grandma's cooking.

    Also just curious as if you had ever had Salvadorean tamales before? I noticed you said the dough, masa (spanish word), was mushy. Salvadorean tamales are made very differently from Mexican ones. First they use banana leaves to wrap them as opposed to corn husks and while Mexican tamales have a denser dough, Salvadorean tamales use dough that starts off very watery, it is then simmered for a few hours to thicken up then poured/scooped into the banana leaf pocket, then steamed. All Salvadorean tamales have that consistency.

    Either way I enjoyed your review and will read more of them.

  12. Thanks for the comments karlamtz. Back when I posted this 3 years ago, I had not experienced Salvadoran tamales before, but in the intervening years I have indeed noticed that the wetter masa is typical. I continue to enjoy El Pulgarcito a great deal for a Central American kick although Sabor Centro Americano and Las Palmas are nice Honduran alternatives.

  13. […] cuisine is every bit as authentic and tasty as Johnson County’s other Salvadoran outlet, El Pulgarcito and is dished out in a much tidier and slicker environment. El Pulgarcito seems to attract a more […]

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