La Bendición Pupuseria & Restaurante, a family-owned business serving food from El Salvador, opened at the turn of the new year. You can find it in the strip mall at the corner of 1st Avenue and 2nd Street in Coralville, the same building that houses the likes of Chez Grace, Global Market and the late great Nile Ethiopian Restaurant.
The new eatery’s featured item is the pupusa. For those Midwesterners like myself who may not have tried one yet, a pupusa is a hand-sized tortilla filled with melted cheese and other ingredients such as pork, beans, vegetables, jalapeños or loroco. The tortillas are thick and earthy, and the cheese inside melts into them for a smooth combination of flavor.
The pupusas themselves are a rare treat for the Iowa City area, and just a few easily make a filling and tasty lunch or light supper. They are purchased individually, in any combination desired, served with a thin salsa and curtido, a cabbage and vinegar slaw. The simplicity of the ingredients — tortilla, cheese, salsa, cabbage and vinegar — make for a marvelous blend that hits different points of the palate. They are delightful. La Bendicion serves eight varieties of pupusa, allowing patrons to experience multiple combinations.
While pupusas are the signature menu item, setting this new restaurant apart, they are not the only trick up La Bendicion’s proverbial sleeve. Other options include seafood, beef or cow’s feet soup, tamales, fried plantains and a short list of entrees: Carne Azada, Carmarones in Crème Sauce, Pollo Frito and a few other Salvadoran dishes, as well as a sizable salad topped with chicken.
The Carne Azada is among the best I’ve had in the area, pounded thin, nicely tender and seasoned perfectly. The shrimp in crème sauce is another highlight of the menu. The sauce is simple, complementing the perfect pop of flavor in each piece rather than overpowering the shrimp.
Each entrée comes with rice, a side salad, tortillas and refried beans. Portions are generous and well plated, and the staff is friendly.
Put simply, La Bendición offers a mouthwatering new take on regional food in Coralville. The brilliance of the menu is rooted in its simplicity — in the grounded flavors and home-crafted recipes. This is a dining experience which feels (and tastes!) more like being invited to a shared meal in someone’s home than at a restaurant. It’s a great spot for a business lunch, a casual date or just a low-key exploration of El Salvadoran foods.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 280.