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Pursuing the Pupusa


  It wasn't so long ago that if you wanted Central American food in general — and pupusas in particular — you probably were headed to the West Bank for a cantina called Pupuseria Divino Corazon (2300 Belle Chasse Hwy., Gretna, 368-5724). The business has been around since the late 1980s, growing out of what originally was a fruit stand to become a family-run restaurant.

  Thanks to the large and rapid growth in the local Hispanic population since Hurricane Katrina, there are a lot more Latin American restaurants all across the area. Many specialize in Central American food, and the pupusa is everywhere as a result. But, as a recent return visit to Pupuseria Divino Corazon confirmed, this pioneering West Bank eatery has not lost its appeal.

  In case you haven't been introduced, pupusas are disks of cornmeal, thicker than a tortilla but still flat and slender, which are stuffed with some combination of beans, tiny bits of chicharron and salty white farmers cheese. They're cooked to a golden toastiness on the griddle and traditionally are served with curtido, a tart, ribbon-thin cabbage and vinegar slaw. One pupusa is a tease, two are not enough, three start to get there, but somehow at four you're completely stuffed.

  Like other restaurants, Pupuseria Divino Corazon originally brought a then-little-known food specialty to the scene by piggybacking on the popularity of another genre. So as places like Kim Son and Nine Roses presented early Vietnamese menus to New Orleanians alongside familiar Chinese-American fare, this pupuseria griddled up its pupusas and heaped on the curdito for one table and for the next served mass-appeal Mexican standards like gooey enchiladas and cheese dip.

  You still can order Tex-Mex next to traditional Salvadoran food here, and in fact Pupuseria Divino Corazon is a sanctuary for the very old-school (and very American) hard-shell corn tacos with shredded lettuce and cheddar. There's still even a "Taco Tuesdays" deal, with $1 tacos from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on that night.

  Most of all, however, Pupuseria Divino Corazon is still a destination worth the bridge toll for pupusas, Salvadoran tamales in thick cream sauce, meat pies with bronze-colored crusts and crinkle-fringed edges and boiled yuca topped with chicharron. Moreover it's worth the trip to see one of the most inviting and well-done dining rooms of any Latin American restaurant to open since.

  Note that there's a full bar, tropical drinks and an under-$5 kids menu but inconveniently early closing times: 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday.

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