Oct. 23, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A small Salvadoran restaurant focusing on traditional dishes has recently opened in Woodside after starting as a fundraising food stand for a Jackson Heights church several years ago.
Ricas Pupusas & Mas, located at 47-55 47th St., specializes, as its name suggests, in pupusas—thick corn tortillas that can be made with a variety of savory fillings. It also offers a small menu of soups, tacos, quesadillas and other quick bites from the region.
The restaurant offers 10 types of pupusas made with ingredients like chicharron (fried pork rinds), beans, cheese, squash, and edible plants native to Central America. Diners, however, can opt for any combination of ingredients in their pupusas.
The pupusas are made fresh and in house by three generations of women that also run the restaurant—Irma Vargas, the owner; Amy and Abigail Vargas, Irma’s daughters; and Maria Ramirez, Irma’s 71-year-old mother who taught her and her daughters everything about Salvadoran cooking.
Irma, 49, said she began making and selling pupusas about four years ago as a way to raise money for their church, La Luz del Mundo/The Light of the World, in Jackson Heights.
Irma and her family would set up a canopy with seats and tables just outside the 92nd Street church on weekends, where the steadily growing number of diners would sit and eat hot pupas straight from the outdoor grill.
“Sometimes customers had to wait for an hour,” Irma said. “We had a lot of customers.”
The mother of four, who used to work doing loan modifications for a State Farm bank, eventually switched to fundraising for the church on a full-time basis to have the pupusas ready to make on weekends.
“My family had to start preparing the whole week for the weekend,” she said. “I had brothers and sisters helping.”
The success of their pupusas stand eventually led Irma to begin seeking out a locale in Jackson Heights, where she could continue to prepare them for her growing clientele.
In March, Irma began her restaurant as part of a pizzeria on Roosevelt Avenue. Just weeks later, however, the pizza shop had to close, leaving Irma to search for yet another home for her business.
The family at last found the Woodside location in August, where the business has been steadily settling into the neighborhood and attracting customers.
“We try to do the best we can to make it as authentic as possible,” Irma said. “Many people from El Salvador have come and said, ‘I haven’t tasted pupusas like yours.’”
Some Mexican “antojitos”, or small plates that appear on the restaurant’s menu, she adds, are influenced by her husband, who is of Mexican origin.
Irma, a native of El Salvador, came to New York when she was 10 years old, as her single mother sought a better life for her family.
She credits her church, which she has been a part of since the 1980s and continues to fundraise for, as the driving force behind her first business venture.
“First is the church for us.” she said. “This is the reason we have the restaurant, because I don’t think we would have been able to start it on our own.”
Ricas Pupusas & Mas currently has soft opening hours from around 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. It will open beginning at 7 a.m. in coming weeks.