From pupusas to palm flowers in Upper Darby's Salvadoran kitchen

Salvadoran meat pastelitos and pupusas stuffed with cheese and loroco flowers at El Cuscatleca in Upper Darby.

You can literally eat around the world by circling the block of Upper Darby’s Terminal Square. Stroll from the punchy Lao papaya salads at Sai-Ba-Dee to the spicy tofu stews in the Korean food court over the H-Mart, turn onto Fairfield Avenue for ultra-crispy Vietnamese spring rolls at classic Little Saigon, and then circle back down Garrett Road for Senegalese chicken with fiery hot sauce over jollof rice at Fanta International African Restaurant, then a Peruvian roast chicken at Inca Wall. This stretch of Garrett is also where you’ll find one of the region’s only Salvadoran restaurants, El Cuscatleca Pupuseria y Restaurant. As the name implies, the griddled round masa cakes called pupusas are the signature draw at this simply appointed but pleasant BYOB, named for the home region of owner Marisela Mancia in central El Salvador, which she left for Philadelphia 15 years ago. And the fresh pupusas ($2.50) were excellent, stuffed with everything from cheese and beans to mashed pork, as well as the minced green stems of the loroco flower, which has a nutty, vegetal savor. But Cuscatleca’s menu has many other worthy Central American treasures, including Honduran-style baleadas, which are similar to quesadillas; grilled platters with mild Salvadoran sausage; and Salvadoran pastelitos meat pies that are essentially empanadas with flaky crusts turned vivid orange with achiote. Perhaps the most unusually tasty dish I encountered, though, was the rellenos de pacayas ($12.95), which is similar in style to an egg-washed fried chiles rellenos in a mild red sauce, but made with the mop-shaped clusters of palm flowers whose long tendrils wove through the fritter’s molten mozzarella stuffing like pleasantly bitter, snappy threads. There was so much more left to discover on Upper Darby’s global menu — dessert maybe? But I was finally stuffed. I’ll have to save a sweets adventure for my next world tour.

– Craig LaBan

El Cuscatleca, 29 Garrett Rd., Upper Darby, 19082, 484-461-3156.

Salvadoran palm tree flowers stuffed with cheese, rellenos de pacayas, at El Cuscatleca in Upper Darby.