Great grilled cheese

La Flor Pupusas Grill

2440 Fulton Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95825

(916) 487-1549

I grew up loving grilled-cheese sandwiches, especially the kind where a little bit of cheese might ooze from the sides of the bread and sizzle into crunchiness at the side. I’d save those bites for last. Back then, Tillamook on sliced sourdough bread was good enough for me. It still is, but now I’ve learned that the basic carb-cheese-carb lineup can be varied with good effect. Bread is great in its many forms, but when you take masa dough, shape it around cheese, and griddle up the whole thing into a gooey, oozing, molten pupusa—one where, maybe, a little bit of the cheese has escaped and formed a crunchy edge? Now that’s grilled cheese in its highest form.

OK, strictly speaking, you are not going to be doing any such thing, and neither am I. We are going to have to find pupuserias to do it for us. Pupusas used to be scarce in Sacramento, but they’re becoming more common. For a long time, the consensus was that the best (and some of the only) were found at La Flor on Northgate. Well, my business doesn’t take me to Northgate all that often, so I was pleased to learn there’s a new location on Fulton at El Camino.

Truth be told, my business doesn’t take me there that often either, but now it might—as long as that business involves eating luscious cheese-filled patties of toasty masa. La Flor’s business card says “famous for our delicious pupusas,” and while “famous” might slightly overstate the case, “delicious” I can vouch for. My friends and I ordered a platter of four of the round, toasty beauties, one each of the different flavors—cheese, cheese and bean, cheese and chicken, cheese and pork—and they were awesome. Toasted perfectly, bigger than the average pupusas I’ve seen, and visibly handmade, with finger imprints at the edges of the tender masa dough, they were just perfect. I am kind of partial to the purity of the cheese, but my friends loved the chicken, which had a nice savory flavor added. The curtido (cabbage relish), in all cases, balanced out the richness of the star attraction. I wished the curtido had been just a little more zingy and spicy, but it had that characteristic, herbaceous oregano scent and nice tartness and crunch.

Slightly odd, pupusas are not front and center on the menu over the counter at La Flor Pupusas Grill. (I am not sure what makes it a grill.) That menu is mostly Mexican, with the usual array of dishes—tacos, burritos, sopes—and meats, from carne asada and carnitas to barbacoa (stewed beef). Less-often-seen offerings, like gorditos and huaraches, in addition to the Salvadoran dishes, were arranged around the counter on hand-written signs. We decided to go for broke and get a whole bunch of stuff to share: sopes with chicken, a plate of fried plantains, the huge aforementioned plate of pupusas, a barbacoa plate, and, for dessert, a sweet-corn tamale. As we waited, we snacked on chips and La Flor’s three salsas: two thin salsas in a perfectly fine, but not very interesting, mild rendition; and a hot version with fruity notes and full flavor; and a peppery, fresh-tasting pico de gallo.

As the food arrived, we realized we had seriously over-ordered—so we, or at least I, overate. The barbacoa was tasty, with mild chili spicing and a deep long-cooked-beef flavor, though I found the accompanying beans a little too liquidy and not very interesting. (Ditto the rice, but truth be told, I don’t expect much from rice at the side of a Mexican dinner plate, so that was not much of a disappointment.) They worked better on the sopes, where it was just a smear of beans topped with moist shredded chicken, salsa and crema fresca. The little masa boats that formed the base of the sopes were heavier than the pupusas’ masa base, with an enjoyable, almost chewy heft.

I was slightly less delighted by the fried plantains. My friends liked them a lot, but I found them a tiny bit greasy. Dipped in the lake of crema that came with them, though, they improved, and the crema’s tang balanced out their sweetness. Also good at balancing them out was a nice Negra Modelo. La Flor is fairly no-frills—the décor is basic storefront with a few plants and some fake brick paneling, and you order at the counter and grab your own drinks from a cooler—but when they are offering cold Mexican beers and plates of melted cheese, you don’t come for the atmosphere.

By the end, I was stuffed as full as a pupusa, but I managed to cram in a few bites of the sweet-corn tamale, which was excellent, with a light, almost cake-like moist texture. It made a great ending, even if among three of us we couldn’t finish it—and, since it’s made of corn, it certainly fit the theme of dinner at La Flor, where pretty much everything is based on the ways they can manipulate masa. Except for, of course, what’s based on delicious, molten cheese.