Go Eat This Now: Panchita’s Pupuseria

The elegant mess with just as much a claim to be a Mission District icon as any burrito.

No discoveries are more exciting than the edible kind — especially ones that are full of ooey-gooey cheese.

It’s become a rite of passage for any newcomer to San Francisco to visit the Mission and follow their noses to 16th Street, where they’ll find some of the most legendary street food in the city. But more often than not, that means Mexican items like burritos and tacos, ignoring the Salvadorean treat known as pupusas.

Every evening at Panchitas Pupuseria No. 2, cooks set up a grill outside the storefront, where they can be found pounding dough into small Frisbee-sized discs, speckled with fillings like pork, mushrooms, and jalapeño. Once these pupusas are pinched and palmed to their ideal size, they’re splattered onto the grill and cooked until they’re golden-brown and cheese bursts from their sides. Foldable and petite, pupusas are a great street food for when you’re drunk and ravenous (or you just need a snack on your commute home).

After the piping-hot pupusas come off the grill, they’re doused in a homemade hot sauce and pickled cabbage slaw. The cold, crunchy toppings complement the molten cheese and the tangy, vinegary slaw adds a complex element to an otherwise simple cornmeal pancake. Everything blends together beautifully in this elegant, greasy mess.

Owner Doris Campos has taken her simple recipe from her home in Chirilagua, El Salvador, and brought it here to the Bay Area, where she now has three Panchita’s locations. What Campos brought with her from Central America has now grown into a San Francisco staple. And in the Mission, where we’re constantly losing iconic establishments to soaring rents and demographic shifts, it’s nice to still be able to get a $5 dinner from a place that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. ¡Muchos gracias, Panchitas!

Panchita’s Pupuseria No. 2, 3091 16th St., 415-313-7273, no website.

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