Restaurant Spotlight

Brightly Painted Walls Create a festive spirit at Pupuseria La Familiar

Brightly painted walls with colorful art, big windows and plants help create a festive spirit at Pupuseria La Familiar restaurant at the corner of Annandale Road and South Washington Street where its speciality, pupusas, are priced under $5.

How does pupusa translate in English?

It’s a corn or rice flour tortilla filled with ham and cheese, or sausage, pork, Salvadoran “flower bud” cheese, shrimp, steak, garlic, squash, avocado, you name it, with prices from $2.40 to $3.50.

A family of four can eat here for under $20 and that’s what many area Latin Americans do on Sundays, said Wendy Marquez, the manager.

In the Spanish tradition, many families go out to eat after church, Marquez told me, and it appears that most of them in the area come here. (Other days, not so much.)

When I dropped in on a recent Sunday afternoon, it was party time with filled tables, a line of eight waiting at the “to go” counter, a crammed parking lot, and lots of noise.

Loud Latino music played nonstop, and it’s hard to hear your meal partner sometime with the echoes (sometimes, not such a bad thing). Guests may go outside to that dining area with service and a lower sound volume.

The big Pupuseria staff is well rehearsed in the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant, maintaining cool and calm demeanors and generally smiling at everyone, and showing no impatience.

If you’ve never waited on tables, it comes highly recommended as an unforgettable experience, a sensitizing lesson in life and one I would recommend to anyone for at least six months.

Pupuseria’s has lots more on its menu than just pupusas, of course. A variety of tacos ($3.50 to $4.99), sandwiches, soups, and breakfast all day long are some of the choices.

At one meal I had my standard Latin American fare of chicken enchiladas with rice and beans ($11.50). The chicken was soft and tender, and the salsa added a welcome, slightly tangy taste.

It was the first time I had had “blended” refried beans (in a food processor?) which, naturally, had no effect on the taste and were as mild as expected. (Nothing I had at Pupuseria’s was too spicy.)

Marquez told me that one of the restaurant’s most popular beverages is “ensalada de frutas” which translates to “fruit salad.” Huh? A drink of salad?

After testing it ($3.50 or $4.25), I decided the name should be changed to “fructas” since I tasted no lettuce, beets, mushrooms (!), or radishes in the drink but, instead, my palate favored the little bits of finely chopped tropical fruit which Marquez warned me might be too sweet (it wasn’t). It was uplifting and refreshing, just the right blend and filled me with enough Vitamin C to last a week.

When my friend Ellie and I ate on another day at Pupuseria, we both ordered baleadas which is like a big taco with refried beans and a Salvadoran cream spread over a large handmade flour tortilla with eggs, avocado, and cheese. Its appearance was deceiving for it looked rather bland, but the taste proved otherwise.

I ordered mine without meat ($4.99), but meats are available (steak, $7.99; chicken or Salvadoran sausage, $6.99).

Ellie said her baleadas was “tasty, good and reasonably priced,” and she cleaned her plate.
Of course, I had to have a pupusa and I chose the pork with loroco and cheese ($2.25) which was ground to a sauce consistency. The Salvadoran flower bud cheese, often found on the menu, is a cooking vine with a mild flavoring and its plant parts, disguised.

For dessert, Ellie and I each had the budin or Salvadoran style banana bread pudding ($2.25) which we decided would be immensely improved with spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream or warmed whipped cream. Its consistency was like a heavenly rich pound cake and gave me the false impression it was good for me. (But not for my scale, alas.)

After working 12 years at another eatery, Marquez joined Pupuseria in 2021 when the restaurant opened in Falls Church, its first location in Virginia, she said. The restaurant prides itself on “authentic Salvadoran cuisine.”

She praised the owners, Maritza and Hector Hernandes, who come in weekly and test the food and kitchen, demanding changes, if necessary. “They want everything to be perfect,” Marquez smiled.

Alas, Pupuseria serves no alcohol. Marquez said the owners want to keep it that way since it’s a family restaurant and there are no plans to change it.

In April 2005, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly declared pupusas as the national dish of El Salvador and the second Sunday in November, National Pupusas Day. It will be crowded at Pupuseria’s!

Pupuseria has locations in Maryland, but Falls Church is not listed on its website, It’s open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., 308 South Washington Street, Falls Church, VA 22046, (703) 995-2528.