Come for the pupusas
Chévere3397 Watt Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95821
When strangers began requesting her mother’s pupusas, Ana Masterson saw an opportunity. Nidia Castro’s delicious pupusas were known all over their neighborhood, as she’d been selling them from her home to friends and family for the last 14 years. But word of the stuffed masa cakes served hot off the grill was getting out to the masses—and the masses were hungry.
Ana saw their chance to open Chévere, a “pupuseria moderna” that would satisfy the growing Sacramento craving and also highlight Salvadoran cuisine.
You’ll find mother and daughter most days at Chévere, Nidia behind the grill, slinging and patting balls of masa into hearty, melty pupusas while Ana handles the customers and cash register. If Nidia suspects you’re new to the place, or to Salvadoran food, she’ll lead you with hand gestures and a mother’s firm tone to the vat of curtido—a fermented, slow-heat cabbage slaw—and encourage you to heap it onto your plate of pupusas. There’s also a watery tomato red sauce to drizzle, which she’ll reluctantly let you get away with not using—if you’re prepared to feel like you’ve let your own mom down.
All pupusas ($2.90) come stuffed with beans and cheese, pork, chicken or a veggie medley. Nidia adds a red pepper for coloring. The result is a thick, stuffed pancake oozing grilled cheese that can be eaten by hand like a snack food, yet is filling and satisfying like the best home-cooked meals.
I’m not sure you can ever go back to the world of well-loved tacos and kid-friendly quesadillas after Nidia’s pupusas. They’re simply that delicious. Chévere’s pupusas are easily veganized, with options such as cashew cheese and jackfruit, a fruit with a meaty consistency.
Alongside Chévere’s pupusa menu are some Salvadoran staples worth trying out, such as the Yuca Frita ($6.60), strips of fried yuca so crunchy and starchy you’ll never want french fries again, topped with chunks of pork (mind Nidia and heap on the curtido and red sauce).
Also enjoy the sweet and sour sensations of platanos, perfectly charred plantains served Frito ($6.60), with beans and sour cream or Canoa ($6.60), covered in milk custard, cinnamon and coconut shavings.
Please be a dear and try Desayuno Salvadoreno ($9.10), a traditional Salvadoran breakfast that puzzled my taste buds with delight: Savory casamiento (think Jamaican rice and peas, but mild) topped with charred plantain, fried egg, chimol (similar to a pico salsa), sour cream and cheese. A gorgeous dish that won me over with its rich and sweet contradictions.
Top off your meal with Chilate ($8), a milky drink made from roasted corn, peppercorn and cinnamon served hot with a plate of nuegado (fried masa dumpling) and candied plantains. Take a bite of nuegado, then a sip of chilate. The watery soup infuses the fried dough with deep, aromatic spices that linger on the tongue long after the dish is over. It’s transcendent.
Nidia is a talented Salvadoran chef, and luckily Ana thought to share Nidia’s pupusas with the rest of us. Chévere is a Sacramento gem. I almost wanted to keep it all to myself.