In Oak Park and environs, we have access to a number of Mexican restaurants, including the venerable La Majada and the much newer Golden Lamb. In Oak Park and Chicagoland in general, Mexican food dominates Latin American selections, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are over 20 countries in Latin America that are not Mexico.
Of all the countries in Latin America, it’s probably easiest for neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador to be blurred with Mexico, though Guatemala is much smaller, and El Salvador smaller still. What are now these three modern nations were once under the dominion of ancient Maya, who left a huge number of urban archaeological zones in Mexico.
It’s also easy to forget, or simply not notice, that Guatemalan and El Salvadorian cuisine is distinct from Mexican, though they share a number of dishes, like the fundamental tamales and tortillas, though in Guatemala the tortillas are smaller, and in El Salvador the tortilla equivalent is the pupusa.
In Melrose Park, in a strip mall, Restaurant y Pupuseria Guanachapin serves foods of Guatemala and El Salvador.
A “pupuseria” is a restaurant that specializes in pupusas, small corn meal disks stuffed with meat or vegetables, most commonly associated with the cuisine of neighboring El Salvador. At Guanachapin, you can have pupusas stuffed with pork, cheese, beans, nopales (cactus paddles), chicken or beef. I had one stuffed with nopales and cheese and it was just fine.
What truly tickled me, though, was the chile relleno, a stuffed chile and also a relatively common item on Mexican menus. In many of Chicago’s Mexican restaurants, the chile (usually a milder variety, like the poblano) seems most often to be stuffed with a mozzarella- type cheese, breaded and fried. The chile relleno at Guanachapin was similarly mild, but it was stuffed with a mixture of pork and vegetables, covered with a mild tomato sauce and a fresh, farmer-type cheese. Honestly, I find the cheese-filled version of stuffed peppers a little dull and gloppy; the non-cheese stuffing I had at Guanachapin was much lighter and had more flavorful dimensions.
The lacy delicacy of the breading on this chile relleno suggested that it was not breaded, fried and held until ordered but rather breaded and fried to order.
In addition to the chile relleno and the pupusa, I also ordered some pastelitos (small empanadas, stuffed with pork and vegetables, and fried hard), and I quite enjoyed all of them, but the stuffed chile was, without a doubt, the best bite I had at Restaurant y Pupuseria Guanachapin.
10400 Fullerton Avenue
Melrose Park IL 60614