The great pupusas war, and other San Pedro dining excellence


Perhaps calling it a war is a bit more hyperbole than necessary, but there are several options for pupusas in San Pedro town on Ambergris Caye, two of them happen to be right next door to each other and the quality is truly impressive.  They were just one of the many incredibly satisfying and reasonably cheap meals available on the island, assuming that you’re willing to walk away from the typical tourist hotspots on the waterfront.  There were some good options in that category, too, but at 3-4x the price.  Both were good, but as usual the local fare generally won out.

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Sarah gets started on another evening of delicious papusas at Pupuseria

The pupusas – corn meal pancakes stuffed with meat, cheese and beans (or some combination thereof and then fried) were truly delicious.  A native dish of El Salvador, they are offered on Ambergris Caye by a couple competing restaurants that are literally right next to each other.  Both women cook the delicious morsels on griddles right out on the street, in full view of the public.  Both have their own recipes for the various stuffing options (my personal favorite was the chicken & cheese; the bean options were too runny for me) but there doesn’t seem to be too much stress in the rivalry.  In fact, other than this report I’m not sure that there actually is any rivalry.  Sarah, one of the proprietors of Pupuseria (on Pescadoro Drive near Black Coral Street) and a native El Salvadoran has been working her craft for nine years in Ambergris Caye and seemed as happy to be doing it this past weekend as if she had just started.  Each pupusa is handmade when it is ordered, fried up fresh and served hot right to the table.  There are sides of slaw and hot sauce to round out the flavor.  And the best part – they are only BZD$2.50 (1USD = 2BZD) each; the bottles of soda cost almost as much.  Getting a great meal for less than BZD$20 for two people is a very likely reality.  There are other things on the menu but with the main option this good it isn’t really worth bothering with them.

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Huevos Rancheros at My Secret Deli in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize 

The other great option for local food in San Pedro comes in the form of the many delis that they have in town.  There are more than a handful and keeping track of all of them proved somewhat difficult.  But whether looking for a hearty breakfast or a filling lunch of rice & beans with chicken or fish – all for less than BZD$15/person – the delis are a great way to go.  My Secret Deli (that’s the real name, not one that I refuse to share with you) offers up options for a variety of tastes all at very reasonable prices.  For breakfast the Huevos Rancheros were quite good, as was the Belizean breakfast served with fried jacks – the Belizean entry into the “every culture has a slightly sweet fried dough option at breakfast” competition.  They are puffy, doughy, deep fried and just the slightest bit sweet.  Oh, and they are delicious either on their own or when used to scoop up eggs, beans and bacon.

There are also some local dining options each evening in the park at the center of town.  The vendors vary based on the night, as does the quality of the food provided.  But it is definitely cheap and reasonably filling.  And if you’re feeling truly adventurous head over to the corner of Barrier Reef Drive and Caribeña Street where you’ll see a guy and his grill out in front of the town’s slot parlor.  He’s got BBQ chicken and pork chops, as well as rice & beans.  It cooks up fresh so it can take a bit of time if he doesn’t have any ready right then (better than salmonella) but it was damn good and worth the bit of wait and the BZD$15 I dropped for a VERY large meal (I had both the chicken and the pork chop that day).

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Enjoying the Grouper Club wrap, the great view and a Beliken for lunch at Wild Mangoes

Moving up from the local “holes” to more tourist-focused restaurants the quality spread got a bit wider while the price point rose rather uniformly.  Fido’s, right on the waterfront just north of the center of town was particularly expensive for the quality.  It wasn’t bad, but there are way better options for the money (about BZD$25 for a sandwich at lunch).  One of the better options at the higher end of the market is Wild Mango’s, just south of the park on the beach front.  Yes, the dinners are expensive (lunch is more reasonable) but the food is top notch.  The flavors blend well without being overpowering on any one front and the ingredients are ridiculously fresh.  And you really cannot beat the view that comes with the meal.  Looking out at crystal clear blue seas just 30 feet from the table and extending as far as the eye can see is quite a relaxing way to enjoy a fine meal.

An island institution, Elvi’s has been around seemingly forever and has been cooking up good local food that whole time.  Whether you head there for the weekly Mayan buffet night on Fridays (approx. BZD$50/person) or just order up a regular meal from the menu, the local flavors shine through quite impressively.  They also have the cool factor of a sand floor and a huge tree growing up through the middle of the main dining room.  El Patio presents a similar menu and effect (sand floor, mostly covered outdoor seating) but the food was a notch lower in quality; the flavors were not quite as well defined.

One final note about fresh ingredients – they make all the difference in the world.  The piña coladas and margaritas were all delicious because the ingredients were fresh.  Apparently it is more expensive to ship in the high fructose corn syrup mixer blend crap than to use fresh lime juice or coconuts.  That is a good thing for the discerning drinker.  And for the not so discerning drinker the Beliken beer is local and quite refreshing. 

A few other random notes on dining in San Pedro:

  • Lots of restaurants are closed on Tuesdays.  Others are closed on Sundays.  Plan appropriately.
  • At the more local places expect to speak more Spanish than English.  Even a bit of broken Spanish (all I’ve got, really) was enough to get by, but it definitely helped.
  • The best value propositions for a “splurge” meal is probably lunch at Wild Mango’s.  All the quality while still keeping the price point reasonable, right up until the third daiquiri kicks in.

 

Pupuseria

Pescadoro Drive, just south of Black Coral Street

My Secret Deli

Caribeña Street, just west of Pescadoro Drive

+501.226.3223

Elvi’s

Corner of Ambergris Street and Pescadoro Drive

Wild Mango’s

Beachfront at Tarpon Street

+501.226.2859

Reservations recommended for dinner

Fido’s

Coral Reef Drive between Pelican Street and Ambergris Street; also accessible from the beach

+501.226.2056

El Patio

Barrier Reef Drive and Black Coral Street

+501.226.3898

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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