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Pupusas and more: Food trucks bring Central American flavors to life

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Fried yuca and pork belly is a specialty of Pupusa on Wheels food truck in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Shredded squash is among the pupusa fillings at Popusas Michoacanas food truck in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Flautas are topped with fresh lettuce, onion, tomato and avocado at Popusas Michoacanas food truck in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Gorditas come stuffed with either chorizo and potato (pictured) or beef with chile at Popusas Michoacanas food truck in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Habanero salsa is freshly made at Popusas Michoacanas food truck in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
The pupusa combo comes with fried plantains, cabbage slaw and rice and beans at Pupusa on Wheels food truck in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Pupusas are a cornmeal griddle cake stuffed with a variety of ingredients, including chicken (pictured), at Pupusa on Wheels food truck in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon

Taco trucks were Southern Oregon’s street food trailblazers.

Even as other genres accelerated the food truck scene, it’s fair to say about a third of Jackson County’s roughly 150 mobile food units specialize in tacos, burritos, tortas and other Latin fare. By that math, it would take a year of Tuesday pilgrimages to try every street taco in the region.

Far more favorable odds suggest a lesser-known staple of Central America. Pupusas are the purview of Salvadoran and Honduran cooks. And two mobile units I patronized within the past couple of months serve this homey, hearty but still hand-held alternative to tacos.

Thicker than a tortilla, a pupusa is a corneal or rice flour griddle cake or flatbread typically stuffed with cheese, beans, squash or meat. The national dish of El Salvador, pupusas are considered an indigenous food and likely have been prepared for more than 2,000 years, according to culinary historians.

In Medford, pupusas and their kissing cousins, Mexican gorditas, headline Popusas Michoancanas in the parking lot of Panaderia Clarita on Court Street. The trailer keeps longer hours — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — than many other mobile units locally but operates only Wednesday through Friday.

The small menu, in addition to pupusas and gorditas, offers flautas, tostadas, quesadillas and crisp-shell tacos. Given the price of each was $5 or less, my partner and I decided to try four of the six dishes, requesting chicken in our flautas (five for $5) and tostada ($3.50), a squash-filled pupusa ($3.50) and a chorizo and potato gordita ($3.50).

The Panaderia’s parking lot hosts a couple of benches and a picnic table under a pop-up awning for customers. Although no other customers waited in front of us, a few cars pulled in and claimed orders apparently made in advance. Popusas Michoacanas, we later learned, has an online ordering platform at orderpopusasmichoacanas.com. Or call 541-840-5980.

Fresh lettuce, red onion, tomato and avocado were piled high on both the tostada and flautas. I dug into the latter, expecting the juicy produce to compromise their crunch and was surprised the flautas were hardly warm, lacked any oily sheen and seemingly were fried some time before we placed our order. An accompanying habanero salsa, however, enlivened the dish.

Hot and fresh, the pupusa and gordita nestled in the same takeout container. Peeling back a sheet of foil from the gordita, I remarked that the spicy chorizo offset with the bland potato tucked into the tender corncake is so much more appealing on my palate than a breakfast burrito.

Cooling the chorizo’s burn, the pupusa’s summer squash is authentically Salvadoran, where the first pupusas were vegetarian. Indeed, I can’t be the only diner who wishes more Latin restaurants offered meatless options other than beans or cheese.

Squash and spinach pupusas keep company at Pupusas on Wheels with a recipe boasting the native Salvadoran “loroco” flower. I unfortunately missed the opportunity to try this floral filling after misreading the menu and mistaking beef, chicken or shrimp as my only choices.

In fact, Pupusas on Wheels’ namesake dish ranges in type from El Salvador’s beloved chicharron to a Hawaiian version with ham, pineapple, onion and cheese. Fried plantains and Salvadoran beans and rice, known as “casamiento,” accompany one, two or three pupusas for $5.50, $9 and $12.50, respectively. Two pupusas — one apiece for me and my partner — left room to split another dish.

While he lobbied for “chicken fries” topped with cheese, guacamole and housemade chipotle, I longed for deep-fried pastelitos, similar to empanadas stuffed with ground beef or chicken. But deep-fried yuca and pork belly ($11) presented itself as a slightly more wholesome option, owing to fresh cucumber, tomato and the Salvadoran cabbage slaw “curtido.”

The turquoise truck in the Crater Lake Highway parking lot of Dazey’s-Hubbards is busy enough that customers receive a remote-controlled buzzer to announce their order’s readiness. My partner and I browsed for a good 20 minutes or so before collecting our takeout boxes heavy with steamy, savory contents.

The zesty slaw and distinctive burn of habanero salsa compelled our interest in the pupusas’ otherwise straightforward flavors of chicken and cheese. A slightly sweet counterpoint, the plantains added more soft textures to the combo plate.

The fried yuca and pork belly, by contrast, were textural delights — crisply fried on the outside and succulent on the inside. While the cubes of starchy root were flourier than the finest French fry, some chunks were a tad oversized, offering too much mealiness and not enough crunch. The juicy pork belly was rich enough to need the side of sweet, thin tomato salsa. Generous slabs of fresh tomato and cucumber also cleansed the palate.

Interesting without being thirst-quenching, “atol” is a hot Salvadoran pineapple-based beverage. The sweet, slightly acidic brew had the body of a smoothie served at the temperature of a latte. Infused with warming spices, it soothes sore throats but didn’t quell any of the salsa’s fire.

Too full — and out of time — to try “budin,” Salvadoran bread pudding, with banana and vanilla ice cream, my partner and I vowed we’d be back. Although Pupusas on Wheels does have a website, pupusasonwheels.square.site, online ordering appears to be disabled. Call 541-973-5542. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Tempo Tidbits

Treat Mom to freshly baked goodies, locally brewed kombucha and single-origin coffee.

These edibles are among goods curated for Mother’s Day at Medford’s Rogue Wear. The apparel, accessories and home decor boutique plans a shop-local event 4 to 8 p.m. today in its parking lot, 307 N. Bartlett St.

Delish Bakery, Moxie Brew Kombucha and Playhouse Coffee Roasting join producers of handmade soap, jewelry, ceramics, metalwork, leather goods and more. Locally grown flowers and salon services also will be available for purchase.

Delish, located in the Medford Center, specializes in macarons, royal-iced cookies and cupcakes. See a “flavor calendar” that touts such recipes as “funfetti,” “s’mores” “margarita,” “fruity pebbles” and even “dill pickle” on its website, delishoregon.com

Brewed in Medford, Moxie Brew uses locally grown ingredients in seasonally inspired recipes, including strawberry-lavender and elderberry-grapefruit. The business fills growlers at local farmers markets. See moxiebrew.com

Located in Talent, Playhouse Coffee is an eco-conscious, Fair Trade roaster. Its small batches and custom blends come in compostable or recyclable packaging. See playhousecoffee.com

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Join a Grants Pass club and explore the world through wine, cheese and fine cuisine.

Partake Shop & Lounge is recruiting for its “Explorers Club,” set to launch the third week of May. Membership costs $75 to $99 per month, affording at least three hard-to-find wines each month, special pricing, exclusive tastings and members-only events, including cheese and wine pairings and onsite and offsite dinners. Membership also waives service fees on all bottles of wine consumed in Partake’s lounge.

Explorer tickets for a six-course dinner in April were $75, compared with $100 for other diners. Sign up in the wine shop or lounge, 111 S.E. G St., or by emailing clubs@partakegp.com

Open since November, Partake combines retail stores for wines and cheeses with a bar serving wines, cocktails, light meals and desserts. The shops are open from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, the lounge from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and 1-10 p.m. Saturday. See partakegp.com

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Cookies are the focus of a new Medford food truck.

Wild Flour Cookies hit the streets last month, selling its freshly baked goodies at the Great Eats of the Street pod adjacent to the Medford Post Office, 325 S. Riverside Ave. The truck operates from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, or until it sells out. Follow @wildflourcookiesoregon on Instagram for updates.

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Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to: thewholedish@gmail.com

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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.