Mama Chayo (Lafayette, IN)

Finding Salvadoran Pupusas and Flavors in Lafayette

Salvadoran food is a cuisine that I am not at all familiar with, so it was that much more exciting when my family and I were returning to Lafayette from a road trip and we spotted a newly-painted blue and white along Teal Rd. with signage reading “Mama Chayo Pupuseria Restarante”. The chance to explore a type of food relatively alien to us right at home here in Lafayette was an opportunity we knew we couldn’t pass up, so we committed to giving Mama Chayo a try at the first opportunity.

Impatient as always, we headed there the next day! Sweaty and hungry after helping our friends move some furniture, we all headed to Mama Chayo. Abby and Nick were also game to try Salvadoran food for the first time and we were glad to share in this “Yummy Eating” adventure with some backup. 

The restaurant itself is nothing much to look at, having obviously been quickly converted from a long dead Taco Bell, but in my experience, these types of family-run hole-in-the-wall establishments are where you can often get the most authentic food. With this being our first time, the four of us tried to order as wide a variety of items from the menu as we could, starting with the signature pupusas. They were delicious.

Flattened corn flour pouches grilled and filled with cheese and a choice of protein or vegetable, I’d describe pupusas as a cross between a quesadilla and a dumpling that is then topped with a crunchy cabbage, carrot and red onion slaw and as little or as much hot salsa as you’d like. None of us were quite sure how to attack them, so we opted to use forks and knives. Our apologies to any Salvadorans who might’ve wondered what the heck we were doing! Regardless of how we got the pupusas into our mouths, once they got there, they were deliciously gooey, crispy, savory and YUMMY. We tried the pork, zucchini, and bean varieties and they all had something different to bring to the table.

Next up, after washing down the pupusas with some ridiculously refreshing melon agaus frescas (think a Latin version of a fair concession shake up), we tried the pastelitos. They were empanada-like deep fried potato dumplings that were also topped with slaw and salsa (I wouldn’t blame them for putting that stuff on everything!) and were satisfyingly crunchy and filling.

Our timing was fortuitous as Mama Chayo has a weekend special seafood stew that Mollie ordered. Generously filled with crab, mussels, squid, scallops, and shrimp, it was just the right kind of soul-warming comfort she needed, despite having to work a little to de-shell the shrimp and crab.

I grew up eating a lot of fried plantains and was happy to see them on the menu. They were far sweeter than how my family would prepare them, but they worked nicely as a sweet dessert–much more ripe and banana-like than the more starchy and potato-like Cuban tostones people might be familiar with. They were served with a side of sour cream that is presumably there to balance out the sweetness with some sourness, but I preferred the plantains straight-up.

I am so happy that we were rewarded for our latest food adventure into the unknown, and feel so privileged to live in a city that is culturally diverse enough to have something like a pupuseria among its food options. We left Mama Chayo with happy-full bellies and I, right on cue, was already wondering what I’d want to try next when we return with the kids. I have my eyes set on the pina aguas frescas–I’ll be back for you soon!

Mama Chayo Pupuseria
2781 Teal Rd
Lafayette, IN 47909

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