Once upon a time, you had to venture north of Rosemont to get a proper pupusa in Montreal.
Before that, it was even harder. I was all the way in Santa Barbara, California, when I first tasted the addictively comforting El Salvadorian treat. That was ten years ago, and since then, we’ve been lucky to have a few Montréal instances, like La Carreta on St Zotique, or El Chalateco on Beaubien.
These places are renowned for their flavours and charm, and not for their trendy or boozy vibes.
Los Planes is aiming to modify the pupusa’s image. The city’s third pupusa contender has recently moved southward in a bid to test their El Salvadorian and Mexican fare in the Plateau. It’s not exactly next door to where I live, yet it’s nice to see more great pupusas near me.
It’s a risky bid. After all, the block to which they have migrated (St-Denis near Rachel) is part of that long-imploding mile between Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal.
Once the city’s de facto tourist shop/lunch strip, the mile, in the past five years, has become known more for its landmark closings, which leave in their wake, changing doors of upstart culinary establishments replacing one another — endless à louer signs replacing even the places with high quality and good intentions.
After trying Los Planes’ pupusas, I can only hope, that the resto does not find itself among the ranks of the restos that come and go too occasionally.
So slick was this resto’s exterior, that my feet almost made me walk past it. Out for an evening stroll, I initially judged Los Planes’ new incarnation as just another Mesa 14-inspired (i.e., overpriced and under-seasoned) “Tex-Mex” trap.
Then I spotted the p-word.
An entire section of an upscale menu devoted to pupusas? Could it be? Were upscale pupusas suddenly a thing?
The good news is, they’re not!
Los Planes’ versions are as homey and heartwarming as any of the El Salvadorian pouches I have tried, and the slight bump in the price is entirely forgivable. The clean and spacious terrace, ample people-watching opportunities, and solid beer and wine list make it worth the splurge, at $3.50 per pouch.
Though the resto offers a full menu of Mexican specialties and various brunch offerings, I’m afraid I can’t give you much information about those: I was here for one thing and one thing only.
The dough of a good pupusa, made from alkalized cornmeal, is akin to a pillow. It’s soft yet firm, inviting yet restrictive, and supports you as you melt away into a wonderful state of pleasure.
Los Planes nails the nurturing quality of the pupusa to near perfection.
I’ll push the analogy further: just as a perfect pillow makes fancy sheets seem inconsequential, so too does a wonderful pupusa pocket cast its fillings as mere enhancements, rather than central features.
The Revuelta, a classic filling mostly based around refried beans, goes down just right on a chilly fall night: oozy, warm, and seasoned to simple perfection. Most importantly, perhaps: it’s not overly greasy at all. Less traditional offerings, such as various cheeses, zucchini, garlic, are hit and miss. Again, the structure is so solid, that it hardly matters. I’d suggest about four: two Revueltas and two “mixed-bags”. You get to choose from about ten options.
Traditional condiments include a mild tomato sauce and a lighly-fermented slaw. Both should be piled high for the full experience and to cut the richness. I personally loved Los Planes’ version of hot sauce, which is rather forceful, and perfect for any cheese-based pupusa filling, which can quickly become cloying.
The terrace makes for a nice, clean, relatively quiet place to grab a pint and to snack. Though it was empty when I arrived, the restaurant and the patio soon filled up with curious passersby.
Despite the cartoonishly-tall and awkward to handle pint glasses it is served in, draft beer is affordable for the neighborhood (considering other restos), with a pint of Boreale at $6.50. In addition, the wine offerings are diverse enough to make the place worth going for a short soiree.
Then there was this seemingly minor detail: a nice wide ledge on the terrace, like a personal bar to lean on, while sitting at your table, makes for a welcome respite for your elbow or phone, and contributes to a feeling of splendor in what is at its heart an authentic pupuseria.
I think Los Planes has added just enough “bling” to their formula to become good, unpretentious Plateau regulars. Let’s just hope the neighbourhood agrees.
Los Planes is at 4115 rue St-Denis.