Pupusas (El Salvadoran Grilled Cheese)

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Last updated September 2, 2018

Pupusas from ZestuousDon’t be afraid to try the unexpected.

One day, I was really craving tacos. Not Taco Bell tacos, but real heart and soul authentic tacos. Usually, it’s easy to find a taco truck in east Las Vegas, but this specific day, there were none on my route.

As my stomach growled and I neared Jack in the Box, I noticed a restaurant that said Salvadorian and Mexican food. I had never tried Salvadorian food, but I knew that this place probably had the decent taco I was craving.

Located at the corner of Nellis and Bonanza, Esmeralda’s Café is tucked in behind a liquor store near the A&W. I walked in, and there were three charming ladies behind the counter. One was working the register and helping the few guests who were glued to a soccer game on the TVs. The other appeared to be doing prep work, and the older woman, wearing a colorful dress, was cooking on the flattop right in the open.

On the chalkboard by the register, they had a daily special that had tacos, so I placed my order. As I waited, I read through the picturesque menu. I pulled out my phone and began to look up some of the unfamiliar menu items.

I observed the older woman flattening dough with her hands and was curious what she was making. They were too thick to be tortillas, but she was putting a lot of love into them. I immediately began looking for them on the menu. Could it be the pupusa?

I typed that into my phone and discovered that these corn meal pockets of dough were filled with ingredients like cheese, pork and/or beans. I’m a huge lover of grilled cheese, and I can live off of cheese quesadillas, especially ones made with corn tortillas. Could this El Salvadorian discovery be my new grilled cheese?

Although my order was almost ready and I had been craving tacos all day, I had to try a pupusa. I added one to my order. I wanted to break into it right there in the restaurant, but had to rush home to let the dogs out.

Pupusas from ZestuousI ran into the house, released the hounds and threw myself to the table. I unwrapped the foil and the beautiful aroma of roasted cornmeal brought a smile to my face. As I tore off a piece, the cheese strung for miles. Finally, the first bite…oh my heavens! Where have you been all my life?

The salty, gooey cheese and the pillowy, earthy corn meal dough were love at first bite. I inhaled the pupusa and was craving another. I should have ordered two because I wasn’t as excited about the taco that I had been craving all day. But it, too, hit the spot.

The next day after work, I drove straight to Esmeralda’s. The same ladies were there and they recognized me right away. I asked them about this magical pocket of cheese, and she graciously explained to me how they were made.

First, they make a dough using masa harina (just like you would for a tortilla). Then, you form it into a ball, press a dent in the center and fill it with your filling of choice. Using your hands, you flatten the dough around the filling and shape it into a saucer. A few minutes on the flattop, and heaven is ready.

I ordered three more pupusas that day – cheese, beans and chicharrón.

Pupusas from ZestuousThey also serve pupusas with fermented coleslaw called curtido. It was similar in taste to Korean kimchi.

I lived by Esmeralda’s on and off for eight years and only recently tried it. It’s a shame that I overlooked it all these years, and it’s proof that you don’t have to have a beautiful storefront or a great location in a glitzy Vegas hotel to be an amazing restaurant.

Now, I’ve moved about 30 minutes away and I miss the pupusas and the lovely ladies who are so friendly.  While I still visit every now and then, it’s not enough to cure my cravings…so I decided to try to make these on my own.

Pupusas from ZestuousMy first attempt was pretty ugly. I discovered that my dough was too dry. A little more water and after about 4 tries of patting out the dough, I got the hang of it.

As with all of my recipes, I added my own Zestuous twist, so it’s not the traditional version. I hope you give this recipe a try…or look in the phone book and see if you have an El Salvadorian restaurant nearby. You don’t have to go far to travel the world.

Pupusas (El Salvadorian Grilled Cheese)

Yield: 12 pupusas

Pupusas (El Salvadorian Grilled Cheese)


  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 ½ - 1 ¾ cups warm water
  • ½ tsp. salt

In a large bowl, mix the masa, salt and 1 ½ cups water together with your hands to make a dough.

Dump the dough onto the counter. If you press it and it cracks, you need to knead in more water.

You’ll know you have enough water when you press it and it looks smooth.

Break off a handful of dough and roll it into a ball.

Slightly flatten the ball and make an indention in the dough.

Add about a tablespoon of filling.

Fold the dough like a taco and press together.

Fold in the opposite ends and press together.

Set the dough on the counter and press the dough together to cover the filling.

Carefully flatten it out into a ¼-inch thick disc. Don’t press too hard or the filling will poke through the dough.

Continue with the remaining dough.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium to medium-high heat. Place pupusas on the skillet in a single layer. Cook for 5 minutes, until brown.

Flip. Continue cooking 5 more minutes.

Remove from skillet and cook remaining pupusas.

Serve with a side of curtido.

Queso Filling

Yield: 12 pupusas

Queso Filling

If you prefer a plain cheese pupusa, try this variety.


  • 1 cup shredded pepperjack cheese
  • ½ cup cotija cheese

Combine the cheese in a medium bowl and use as a filling for pupusas.

Chicharrón (shredded pork) Filling

Yield: 36 pupusas

Chicharrón (shredded pork) Filling

Chicharrón is pork that is cooked, shredded and mixed with vegetables. Traditionally, green pepper is used, but I am in love with Hatch green chiles, so I used those instead.


  • 1 lb. pork butt roast
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 of an onion
  • 1 tablespoon canned green chiles
  • 1 cup grated pepperjack cheese
  • ¼ cup cotija cheese

Chop the pork into 1-2-inch cubes

Add the pork, water, garlic and salt into a large pot. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.

While the pork is cooking, prepare the salsa.

In a food processor, chop the tomatoes and onion.

Place the salsa into a large bowl and add the green chiles. Stir to combine.

Back on the stove, turn the heat to medium-high for 10 minutes to allow the liquid to boil off.

Reduce the heat back to medium and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes to brown the fat.

Place the meat in a food processor.

Pulse 8-10 times to chop the meat.

Add the chopped meat to the salsa bowl along with the cheeses and mix with your hands.

Use the prepared chicharrón as filling for pupusas.

Curtido (slaw)

Curtido (slaw)

This is an optional side item often served with pupusas. This is not quite a traditional recipe. I added sriracha for heat. I like to grab a pinch of curtido with my fingers and eat it on top of my pupusa.


  • 3 cups water
  • 1 8-oz. bag shredded cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice (juice of one lime)
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup grated carrot
  • ¼ cup grated onion

Place the water in a microwave-safe pitcher and microwave for 3 minutes. Place the cabbage in a large bowl and pour the water on top. Let it rest for 3 minutes.

Drain the water from the cabbage using a colander.

In the bowl, whisk together the lime juice, sriracha, olive oil, sugar, salt and water.

Place the cabbage back in the bowl and mix in the carrots and onion.

Pour the mixture into a Ziploc bag. Press out the air and seal so the cabbage ferments in the liquid. The longer it sits, the better the flavors will be.

Serve alongside the pupusas.



By |2018-09-02T17:27:48+00:00March 2, 2013|


  1. Mary April 6, 2018 at 8:41 pm - Reply

    Please note we are not “El Salvadorian”! We are Salvadorans from El Salvador!

  2. zestuous April 1, 2018 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    Wow. Thanks for letting me know.

  3. Aida October 2, 2017 at 12:58 am - Reply

    I also made pupusas yesterday acompanaid with curtido and salsa and they were muy sabrosas 🙂

  4. Mandy Zepeda June 29, 2017 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    These look great. I have mastered pupusas as of today.

    Pay no attention to rude comments!

    I am intrigued by the sirachi curtido. I add jalepenos to mine for spice. It is hard to find in my area but caquie makes a salvadoran sour cream that is insanely good on these.on black beans. On anything really!

    The salsa they use is super simple,too. Boil about five roma tomatos until the peel falls off. Broil 3 garlic cloves. Add the tomato,peeled garlic cloves,salt,and a pinch of oregano to the blender and voila

  5. JCM June 20, 2017 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    I just made a batch of these for dinner. I’m crossing my fingers that they will impress my mother-in-law from Jalisco, Mexico. Supposedly she loves these. 😊
    Pray for me! Lol!

  6. Melissa Cruz May 29, 2017 at 6:34 am - Reply

    I can smell those cardboard dry pupusas from over here in El Salvador, and I can tell you, either those ladies didn’t want you to truly understand how pupusas are made or you’re better off not recreating recipes because this whole post is a hot, disgusting mess! The cheese needs to be fixed ASAP, that chicharrón looks like drained tuna, your “slaw” (please don’t disrespect us like that again) has olive oil in it, OLIVE OIL!!!!! LORD HAVE MERCY.
    I know you were trying to profit from making a post from a poorly developed “recipe”from a culture you’re not familiar with and apparently have no respect for, but please stop trying.

    • zestuous May 29, 2017 at 4:22 pm - Reply


      I was not compensated for writing this post. I genuinely was delighted by the El Salvadorian restaurant I found in Las Vegas, and I wanted to share it with others who may be visiting the area.

      There are many people who don’t live in cities where they can experience different cultural cuisines, so through my website, I develop my version of global dishes. They usually do have an American twist because I try to use ingredients that can be found in most U.S. supermarkets.

      I apologize if you feel this post was disrespectful to your country. My intent was just the opposite. I wrote it hoping to encourage people to explore your country’s cuisine.


    • Dianna September 16, 2017 at 10:32 am - Reply

      Rude much? Geez! It’s this attitude that spreads intolerance and hatred. Grow up Girl!

      • Dianna September 16, 2017 at 10:33 am - Reply

        This comment is directed at Melissa Cruz….

    • Richard Castaneda October 6, 2017 at 11:12 am - Reply

      Don’t be ignorant. So what? She’s giving her version of a dish. How many pupusa restaurants do you own? How famous are you for making them? Never fault someone for trying to educate people. Instead, try offering improvements. Or, maybe give us your famous version of this dish.

    • Priscilla January 8, 2018 at 4:57 am - Reply

      What a total witch you are. I’ve met your kind before, hateful, jealous and ugly. Instead of being a witch, why don’t you be nice and share tips for making them?

  7. Anonymous May 28, 2017 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    Are you profiting at all from posting this trash? You donating that money to El Salvador or Salvadorans in the US? Or are you just gonna keep colonizing? 🙂

  8. […] that the two are most certainly not the same. I used the correct amounts in the recipe (found here), but obviously with corn flour. What I was left with was a runny, but also sticky type of dough, […]

  9. Jennifer December 13, 2016 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Do you put oil on the skillet? I have been trying to make these and I feel like I cook them way too long and they start browning too much, but the masa doesn’t get cooked all the way through.

  10. Abigail November 5, 2015 at 5:58 am - Reply

    This is the most accurate recipe I have found online. I am from El Salvador and I hope you find this tip useful: if you’re in a rush and need curtido right away, add half a cup of vinegar of your choice after you add the hot water, let it sit for 30 minutes and ta-da! you have curtido. Thank you for not destroying the recipe and putting avocados on top or any other thing… pupusas are just like your recipe 🙂

    • zestuous November 8, 2015 at 7:46 am - Reply

      Thank you so much Abigail. That means so much. I love your curtido tip, too.

  11. […] papusa recipe adapted from Zestuous […]

  12. Laura June 28, 2015 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    Just made these tonight and my family loved them! I made some with black beans and cheese, and some with just cheese. I also made some traditional fermented cortido, but sadly, it won’t be ready for a couple of days. I guess I’ll just have to make another batch of pupusas when it’s ready. Thanks for a great recipe.

  13. […] found a method online via Zestuous that recommends making the pupusas in a little ball. That method didn’t work out for me so […]

  14. edna April 13, 2015 at 11:18 am - Reply

    I’m salvadorean n This is the most accurate recepie. ..congrats… secret (nomore) for my cheese I like to mix queso fresco (ranchero),or feta with mozzarella cheese equally,but also some grind green bell pepper. It’s not spicy, just to add flavor. U’ll love it!!!

  15. Teapixie December 19, 2014 at 10:29 am - Reply

    These look soooo gooood! Can’t wait to try them. I have two questions for you:

    1. Can the dough be made ahead of time (a couple of hours) and kept wrapped in the fridge?
    2. Can the patties be frozen before cooking or should they be cooked first before freezing or should they not be frozen, ever?

    Thank you so much for the recipe!

    • zestuous December 21, 2014 at 7:43 am - Reply

      Hi Teapixie,
      1) I’ve never tried making the dough ahead, but I think you could. Like you said, make sure you wrap it in plastic so it doesn’t dry out.
      2) Yes, you can freeze them before cooking. I have done that. Thaw them in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them. Or you can cook them first, then freeze them and then microwave them when you want to eat one. Enjoy!

  16. Ana August 25, 2013 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    I’m Salvadorean and this is like every day meal to us, Just A few tips:
    – For the dough you need to work the dough around 10 min until the dough gets a smooth texture.
    – You can even use another filling for example I love the mix one(revueltas) you add pork, bean and cheese. Or also you can add mushrooms with cheese (like a gourmet pupusa).
    – For the cheese if you wanna have that cheese- dripping effect. You have to use Mozzarella cheese or mix with a 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Work the mixture and add it to the dough.

    Hope it help you 🙂

    • zestuous August 26, 2013 at 7:14 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much Ana. I appreciate you sharing the true secrets of this recipe.

  17. Eve Auksel May 14, 2013 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    Made these tonite. SOOOOO good! Used some leftover shredded pork, and put a couple of TBLS oil in the pan so they were lightly fried. The cortido was excellent too. I added oregano since it seems like it is a standard in other cortido recipes. I kept my hands moist to help for the last half of the pupusas. Thanks for the great instructions!

    • zestuous May 21, 2013 at 9:04 pm - Reply

      Awesome Eve! Thanks for sharing. I love that you fried up the pork. I bet it was great.

  18. Tiffany Acuff May 9, 2013 at 1:53 am - Reply

    What do you serve with them? I need to provide a gluten free meal to a friend who just had a baby and while these look fabulous and would totally fit the bill, I have no idea what to serve alongside it…

    • zestuous May 21, 2013 at 9:04 pm - Reply

      Perhaps some gluten-free refried or black beans along with the curtido or a green salad with avocado and tomatoes.

      • Epi October 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm - Reply

        I am Salvadorian, and I make them all the time. If you do the pupusas revueltas which are refried beans, cheese and pork, this is a complete meal and you serve them with curtido and a non-spicy salsa. They have to be serve hot. You could also serve them with some refried plaintain with sour cream (typical dish from El Salvador).

  19. Megan Barth April 27, 2013 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Sounds like I need to give these a try! Like a quick tamale! I get to Vegas occasionally and will stop by Esmarelda’s for sure.

  20. Marie April 6, 2013 at 11:54 am - Reply

    I just got back from a missions trip in el salvador and we ate these while we were there! El salvadorian ladies cooked them up for us and taught us how to make them. We ate ones filled with refried beans and cheese. They also make them from rice flour which I actually liked better. Mmmmm

    • zestuous April 8, 2013 at 5:22 pm - Reply

      Marie, what a fabulous experience. I bet the pupusas were fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing your travels on Zestuous.

  21. Liz March 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Lord have mercy!! this look very good!

  22. Angela March 20, 2013 at 9:31 am - Reply

    Wow! These look terrific! Thank you. I crave these too.

  23. […] « Pupusas (El Salvadorian Grilled Cheese) […]

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