Dish of the week: Pupusas with cheese and chicharrón


The wall at El Sunzal features a mural of El Salvador, with a description of the country's various regions.
The wall at El Sunzal features a mural of El Salvador, with a description of the country’s various regions.

You think Austin and San Antonio have beef over tacos?

The origin of the pupusa led to a minor international incident between El Salvador and Honduras during the negotiations of the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2003, with each country wanting to claim the doughy treat as its exclusive export. The crisis was narrowly averted and a couple of years later the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly named the pupusa the country’s national dish. Problem solved?

The soft rounds of stuffed masa at El Sunzal (named after a beach in El Salvador) in East Austin (642 Calles St.)  come in several varieties. A creamy version at a recent lunch included quesillo cheese and a fatty paste of ground pork (chicharrón). The mixture is spread on the dough, which is then folded over and cooked (likely in pork fat) on a flat-top grill to a sunglow finish. A side of chopped cabbage in a pool of vinegar (cortido de repollo) gave a crunchy, acidic bite to cut the fat.

The fluffy and chewy pupusas cost $2 each, and you can also order traditional mixtures of cheese and refried beans or cheese and bright green bits of loroco, a plant native to Central America. I wish there had been more of the loroco, as it was hard to ascertain the flavor of the slightly nutty and bitter bud.



Events: Saturday benefit bake sale at Second Bar + Kitchen

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As they so often do, restaurant industry folks are rallying to support one of their own. Second Bar + Kitchen chef Monica Senclair and her family lost their home and belongings to a fire on February 5. The financial hit was severe, especially given the fact that the family was without renters’ insurance.

Talent from more than 25 local restaurants are teaming up for a bake sale from noon to 6 p.m. at Second Bar + Kitchen (200 Congress Ave.) to raise money for the family. Chefs from Emmer & Rye, Isla, Sweetish Hill Bakery, Geraldine’s, Elizabeth St. Café, Jeffrey’s and more have prepared baked goods that will be sold at the event. The fundraiser will also feature a raffle for gift cards, knives and more. Organizers are also accepting donated baked goods or gift cards. Contact Michelle at or 512-865-9737 for more info. or drop off donated items can at Second Bar + Kitchen today before 8pm or Saturday before 10 a.m.

More info at Second Bar + Kitchen’s Facebook page.

Now open: East Side King’s Thai-Kun at the Domain

The Domain continues to grow, using established local businesses like East Side King’s Thai-Kun as building blocks. The Thai-centric food truck from the empire co-founded by Paul Qui (named one of the 10 best new restaurants in American by Bon Appetit in 2014) now has a brick-and-mortar location at the complex’s Rock Rose development (11601 Rock Rose Ave.).

The menu from Qui, Moto Utsunomiya and Thailand native Thai Changhtong features spicy Thai street food, with counter service at lunch and table service at dinner. Dishes include fermented pork sausage with cabbage and Thai chili, tamarind-glazed chicken wings, pad Thai, kao man gai, ground pork cooked with blood and toasted rice powder, and roasted chicken with coconut milk. The restaurant also serves beer, wine and sherry and sake-based cocktails created by the team at Qui

The hours are a little wonky. To wit:

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (lunch) and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (dinner) Monday-Thursday

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (lunch) and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. (dinner) Friday

11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

For more on Changthong’s spicy creations, read my story about Thai-Kin from 2015.

Now open: Salad-centric Vinaigrette off South Congress Avenue

The Cherry Tart salad at Vinaigrette. (Credit: Vinaigrette)
The Cherry Tart salad at Vinaigrette. (Credit: Vinaigrette)

Salad-centric Vinaigrette opened recently at 2201 College Ave. in the former Treehouse Italian Grill space at the intersection of Congress Avenue and Live Oak Street. It is the first Austin location for the New Mexico-based restaurant. Vinaigrette cleverly breaks down its 18-salad menu into sections like “Bright and Zippy” (featuring a Greek salad), “Savory” (featuring a kale-based Caesar), “A Little Sweet” (featuring beet and goat cheese) and “In Balance” (featuring spinach-mushroom with hardboiled eggs). Owner Erin Wade intends to operate a farm in Bastrop that will contribute produce to her large menu.

The restaurant, which features ample outdoor seating, also serves several sandwiches and sides, as well as desserts, beer, wine and cocktails that utilize fresh vegetables and fruit.

Vinaigrette is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.





New app Pearl guides users to restaurants serving oysters

The Pearl app is available for iPhone.
The Pearl app is available for iPhone.Your average food and wine lover knows there’s an entire culture and industry surrounding wine education. People talk about terroir, wine varietals, producers, regions, etc. Sam Asher wants to start a similar conversation around the world of oysters.

Your average food and wine lover knows there’s a whole industry surrounding wine education. People talk about terroir, wine varietals, producers, regions, etc. Sam Asher wants to start a similar conversation around the world of oysters.

The longtime seafood lover, who was raised on the East Coast and has several family members in Austin, left his world in finance to start Pearl, an app that educates users on the wide array of oysters and shows them where to find the bivalves at restaurants in more than a half dozen cities in America.

Asher launched the app in June and works with restaurants in cities from Seattle to New York City to communicate current selections and educate about the history and flavor profiles of a multitude of appellations.

When users open the app, they can geolocate restaurants, find out about specials, read about the oysters currently offered and find links to the restaurants and their reservation sites. Pearl currently includes seven Austin restaurants, including Parkside and Vox Table. The free app is currently available only on iPhones but is coming to Android phones later this year.

The Austin Oyster Festival returns for the fourth year to deliver all the seafood locals could want. Photo contributed by Austin Oyster Festival.
The Austin Oyster Festival returns for the fourth year to deliver all the seafood locals could want. Photo contributed by Austin Oyster Festival.

Pearl is one of the sponsors of this year’s Austin Oyster Festival, which takes place Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. at the French Legation Museum (802 San Marcos St.) The event features oysters served in myriad ways – raw, grilled, roasted, fried, etc. – prepared by Eddie V’s executive chef Chris Bauer. General admission tickets are $50, with a portion of proceeds benefitting the Capital Area Food Bank. For tickets or more information, visit



Whole Foods launching food truck that will serve as test kitchen

01.27.10 Alberto Martínez AMERICAN-STATESMAN -- Whole Foods has introduced a new healthy eating campaign called 'Health Starts Here.' It's an extensive program that labels the nutritional value of foods throughout the store, even wine. The campaign will incorporate lectures, special events and support groups. Even the store's prepared foods will include nitritional information. TIA10 TIA Business For 0111wholefoods, biz.

Austin-based Whole Foods is getting into the food truck game. The truck, helmed by Momofuku alumnus Tien Ho and serve as a test kitchen, trying out new concepts for stores. It fires up March 10, the day before South by Southwest The truck will also be utilized for Whole Foods to collaborate with chefs and supplier partners. Ho, the new global vice president of culinary and hospitality for Whole Foods, created the truck in partnership with the grocer’s prepared foods team.

The truck, located at the flagship store on Lamar Avenue, will change names and concepts every two months. The first moniker? Tartinette. It will serve open-faced sandwiches (tartines) and salads daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

TIen Ho is spearheading the new food truck initiative from Whole Foods.
TIen Ho is spearheading the new food truck initiative from Whole Foods.

“This test kitchen is so exciting because we get to include Whole Foods Market customers in the process, using their input to create dishes that could become new favorites across the country,” Ho said.

Two percent of sales from the truck will benefit Whole Foods Market’s nonprofit partner, the Austin Food & Wine Alliance.

Whole Foods Market will announce Tartinette’s full menu at in March.

Taco Tuesday: Grit-fried chicken taco (gluten free)

Grit-fried chicken tacos. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Grit-fried chicken tacos. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Living in Austin means you can look beyond Mexican restaurants and trailers for tacos. Especially if the person calling the shots in the kitchen is from Texas. This Dallas-raised chef shows proper respect for his creation, making doughy corn tortillas like tamales with elastic pull. They may be served in a New American bar-restaurant hybrid, but many Mexican restaurants around town pulling their corn tortillas from a bag would be wise to take note.

The kitchen mixes the cornmeal, grits and cornstarch to create a gluten-free dredge that gives a granulated crackling to the juicy fried chicken thighs. The flash fry puts a sandy texture on the chicken that is much more appealing than the fierce, brittle shells you find on some oily deep-fried chicken. (The make-your-own tacos are $10.50 at lunch and $12.50 at dinner.)

There’s no accompanying salsa, but the layering of flavors proves the chef’s skill.

The chicken from chef Chad Dolezal at the Hightower arrives in a bowl glistening with a sweet orange oil and colored with red squiggles of Fresno chili and the bitter snap of bok choy. Pick the accompaniments from the bowl and slather them across the smooth corn tortilla to create a bitter, sweet, spicy and crunchy base for the chicken. As with so many of the dishes at this neighborhood hang in East Austin, the chicken tacos remind me of high-end stoner food – flavorful, aggressive and never precious.

The Hightower 

1209 E. Seventh St. 512-524-1448,

Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner: Daily, 5 p.m. to close. Brunch: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.