Angelenos need only trek to local farmers markets to find some of Los Angeles’s finest Salvadoran pupusas: Carlita’s Pupusas loads her corn flour parcels with freshly ground chicharron in Lakewood, while Pupusas Yeni serves up melty pork and cheese pockets in Norwalk, Westwood, San Pedro, and West LA. But perhaps most enticing of all are the pupusas made by Ruth Sandoval at Delmy’s Pupusas, whose stand pops up at the Silver Lake, Echo Park, Atwater Village, and Hollywood farmers markets every week. Filled with organic vegetables like mushrooms and squash blossoms sourced from neighboring vendors, Sandoval’s pupusas have garnered a dedicated following since 2007.
Sandoval is a third-generation pupusa-maker. She learned the craft from her mother and grandmother, who shaped her philosophy for ingredient sourcing and imparted their knowledge on how to process harina de maíz (corn flour). She prepares fresh masa weekly to keep up with demand, and learned how to do so by shadowing her family’s matriarchs in the kitchen before she was “old enough to turn on a stove,” Sandoval says. “I remember my grandma giving everyone a task when we made masa. Mine was mostly to carry baskets of dried maíz from the local mercado to my grandma’s kitchen.” Each batch of masa starts with nixtamalization. Dried maize is cooked in an alkaline solution, washed, hulled, and made into masa using a metate.
Filling pupusas with local ingredients is Sandoval’s way of paying respect to the foodways of El Salvador. In her hometown of El Llano la Mate, located an hour north of San Salvador, she remembers frequenting a vendor who used a local pear-shaped squash called guisquil in her pupusas.
In 1986 when Sandoval’s mother, Delmy, fled to the U.S. as the Salvadoran Civil War raged on, she and her siblings remained in El Salvador. They reunited in Los Angeles in 1992. Sandoval distinctly remembers a photo of herself from this tempestuous time. In it, she’s pictured as a barefoot 10-year-old. “I basically came here with no shoes on,” she says. “I lost my shoes at one point because I had to run for my life.”
Sandoval began working in the early ’90s helping her mother sell elotes locos, a Salvadoran street corn-on-a-stick slathered in mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and salsa negra, and finished with a sprinkle of queso duro blando. The pair walked for miles each day through neighborhoods like Bell, Huntington Park, and South LA hawking their wares. “We would be extra careful crossing the train tracks,” says Sandoval. “Our cart tipped over more than once and it was hard to get it back up because it was just my mother and me.”
Sandoval’s mother operated an ice cream truck when she was in middle school, but the venture was short-lived after a family friend informed them of an opportunity to establish a pupusa business at the Hollywood Farmers Market. Sandoval remembers herself as a 12-year-old, taking orders and educating curious crowds about pupusas while her mother handled the cooking. “The Hollywood Farmers Market is where I fell in love with the farmers market community,” she says. “I feel so proud getting to cook for people and sharing my culture. When I’m at my farmers markets, I don’t feel sadness or stress. There’s just laughter and good times.”
Sandoval opened Delmy’s Pupusas in 2007 and now leads a small team of three pupuseras. She named the business after her hero, her mother. The most popular of Delmy’s “little pockets of love,” as Sandoval affectionately calls her pupusas, is made using organic blue corn and exclusively sold at the Atwater Village Farmers Market on Sundays. Her other best-selling pupusas include the revueltas with beans, ground chicharron, and melted cheese; the jalapeno with cheese; and the queso con loroco that incorporates an earthy flower bud native to Central America.
Delmy’s also sells vegan pupusas stuffed with oyster mushrooms, squash blossoms, and a homemade cashew-based cheese that melts and pulls just like the real thing. Every pupusa is prettied with swirls of Salvadoran sour cream along with spicy tomato salsa and a tangy and herbaceous curtido. Half a dozen aguas frescas are available to wash everything down.
While Sandoval relied on savings to keep Delmy’s afloat during the onset of the pandemic — “I remember taking orders through Instagram and delivering food even in the rain. I refused to give up,” she says — these days business is mostly back to normal. “I love to hear people yell, ‘Hi, Delmy!’ when they visit,” says Sandoval with a smile on her face. “Delmy is my mom, but it’s an honor when people call me by her name.”
Sandoval’s commitment and love for her customers do not go unnoticed. “My family and I have been coming to Delmy’s for over 10 years now,” said longtime patron Sarah Gualtieri. “Delmy’s makes the best pupusas. She’s such an asset to our community.”
Even after 16 years in business, there’s still a line snaking from Sandoval’s stand. The recipes and techniques handed down from her mom and abuelita, coupled with Sandoval’s uncompromising approach to sourcing ingredients, make Delmy’s Pupusas a standout in Los Angeles. Sandoval says the secret to her success is love; at Delmy’s, it’s served by the pocketful.
Find Delmy’s Pupusas on Tuesdays and Saturdays at Silver Lake Farmers Market, Fridays at Echo Park Farmers Market, and Sundays at Atwater Village Farmers Market. Follow on Instagram for the latest updates.