by Ian McNulty
It wasn’t so long ago that when if you wanted Central American food in general — and pupusas in particular — you were probably 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 had originally been a fruit stand to become a family-run restaurant.
Thanks to the large and rapid growth in the local Latino population since Hurricane Katrina, we have a great deal more Latin American restaurants all across the area. Many of them specialize in Central American food and the pupusa is everywhere as a result.
But, as a recent return visit confirmed, this pioneering West Bank pupuseria has not lost its appeal despite the wider availability of its specialty.
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 served with curtido, a tart, ribbon-thin cabbage and vinegar slaw. One 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 scene by piggybacking on the popularity of another genre. So as places like Kim Son and Nine Rosespresented early Vietnamese menus to New Orleanians along side 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 can still order Tex-Mex next to traditional Salvadoran here, and in fact Pupuseria Divino Corazon is a sanctuary for the very old-school (and very American) hard shell corn tacos, with their 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.
But most of all Pupuseria Divino Corazon is still a destination worth the bridge toll for pupusas, for Salvadoran tamales in thick cream sauce, for meat pies with bronze-colored crusts and crinkle-fringed edges, for boiled yucca topped with chicharron and moreover for 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, an under-$5 kids menu but also inconveniently early closing times — 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday.
Pupuseria Divino Corazon
2300 Belle Chasse Hwy., Gretna, 368-5724