Craving a pupusa? You’ll find no shortage of the Salvadoran delicacy — a maseca or corn-flour tortilla stuffed with reveulata, a mix of pork and cheese or bean and cheese — in Wheaton, where 18.5 percent of residents reported themselves as Salvadoran-American on the U.S. Census.
But it wasn’t always easy to find the popular and tasty Salvadoran street food around here.In 1989, when Salvadoran immigrants Pedro and Reina Lazo took over the lease of a pizza place a half a block off Georgia Avenue in the Wheaton Shopping Center, their Los Chorros was the first Salvadoran restaurant in Montgomery County. The mom-and-pop carryout served home-cooked Salvadoran comfort food for the then-small but growing population of Central American immigrants, who began arriving during the 1979-1992 civil war in El Salvador.
The Lazos came to the region earlier, in 1974. Both were essentially orphans who worked throughout their childhoods — Reina sold home-baked bread door-to-door and Pedro collected bus fares.
Their son, Omar Lazo, 45, who now runs the family business, picks up the story:
“My parents came to Washington, D.C., where my aunt Betty Anna Reyes started making Salvadoran food at home and selling it to friends and neighbors.”
The Lazos joined her, and Reina worked as a waitress when Reyes opened a small joint in a pool hall on Florida Avenue in Adams Morgan. Pedro Lazo became a superintendent of three apartment buildings, allowing the family to live rent free. As a child, Omar remembers walking door-to-door with his mother in the District neighborhood selling bread and helping his dad sweep floors and unclog toilets in the apartment building. “I learned so much from them,” he said.
Eventually, the family set their sights on opening a Salvadoran restaurant, but the only affordable spot they found was in Wheaton — a below-sidewalk-level carryout pizza place of just 1,600 square feet. They selected the name Los Chorros, for a vacation spot in El Salvador where waterfalls and natural stone pools attract visitors. “They chose that name,” Lazo said, “because someone from El Salvador would recognize it.”
Los Chorros Restaurant became an important — and authentic — gathering spot for the Salvadoran immigrant community in the county. During the civil war and natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes in the country, the Lazos collected food, clothing and medicine, and raised money to airlift the supplies to their homeland.
Today, the restaurant has grown from a modest carryout to a spacious 4,600 square feet with seating for 170.
Menu favorites at Los Chorros include the pork and cheese pupusas. Just preparing the pork filling, Lazo explained, takes many hours of careful work.
“We cube pork shoulder. That gets cooked [on a gas stove]. We use orange peels and spices. When fully cooked, then it cools a bit. We put it through a sausage grinder; from there, it gets put into a large vat with tomato juice, onions, green pepper and our spices. That cooks for about an hour and you have to keep stirring it until it becomes like a paste.”
He noted it’s like a pâté, very smooth, not like ground beef or sausage, because the pork has cooked for at least four hours then finely ground and mixed with cheese.
Los Chorros also features Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes, among them fajitas. In the early days, many restaurant goers were unfamiliar with Salvadoran cuisine, so Mexican dishes became a way to attract non-Salvadoran customers while introducing them to unusual Central American flavors, like loroco, the bud of a Central American flower Lazo described as “pungent.”
Lazo, who grew up at Los Chorros, coming in after school as a child and teen and doing his homework at a table, learned the restaurant business firsthand before earning a degree in business management from University of Maryland. These days, his parents have retired and spend winter months in El Salvador — yes, on the beach.
Los Chorros remains a hub for the Salvadoran community in the county and beyond, but warm friendly service is a hallmark of the restaurant. Lazo learned from his parents that everyone who enters the brightly colored basement space leaves feeling like family. He and his staff always provide a warm welcome.
“It’s the way my mom was,” Lazo said. “I saw how my mom treated people: It doesn’t matter who you are. If you work in this industry, you treat staff a lot better, you’re more flexible. You’re friendly. This business prepares you for a lot of things in the world.”
Los Chorros Restaurant
2420 Blueridge Ave. Wheaton
Two-hour parking at Wheaton Shopping Center on Georgia Avenue or metered
parking at the lot on Blueridge Avenue down the hill on the right.
Correction, Feb. 10, 2023, 6:15 a.m.: An incorrect location for the Los Chorros vacation spot in El Salvador was removed.
Omar Lazo’s Recipe for Yucca con Chicharron
A popular Salvadoran comfort food consisting of fried yuca, fried chicharron (pork shoulder), topped with a pickled traditional pickled cabbage slaw.
Curtido is a pickled cabbage slaw that is served with several traditional Salvadoran dishes like pupusas, yuca, and Salvadoran-style enchilada and corn flour empanadas.
¼ head green shredded cabbage
1 medium carrot peeled and shredded
½ cup water
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 jalapeño sliced thinly (optional)
¼ red onion sliced thinly
1 Shred a ¼ head of cabbage, ¼ red onion, 1 Jalapeño finely,
2 Shred a medium carrot using a coarse cheese grater.
3 Whisk together all remaining ingredients in a bowl.
4 Add vegetables to bowl and mix well so that all vegetables are well coated.
5 Cover bowl well and let sit at least 1 hour before serving. Ideally you can store this overnight and use for up to 5 days with refrigeration.
Yuca is the starchy root tuber of the cassava plant and is a staple in the Central and South American diet. You may find it in grocery stores as cassava.
2 pounds yuca/cassava root (fresh or frozen)
2 cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 If fresh yuca you will need to peel and cut the yuca into smaller chunks. Frozen yuca that are already peeled and cut into smaller portions can be found in most international food stores.
2 Bring water to a boil and add salt and yuca. Boil for 25-30 minutes until you can easily poke with a knife or a fork.
3 Drain water and cut yuca into large wedges. Remove fibrous veins that run through the center of the yuca.
4 In a pan, add two cups of oil so that you have at least 2 inches of oil at the bottom of the pan. Heat to 350 degrees. Add yuca, fry wedges turning occasionally until golden brown. Remove from oil and set on paper towels to cool a little before serving.
1 pound pork shoulder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf
2 cups vegetable oil
1 Remove some of the excess fat from pork shoulder and cut into 2-inch chunks.
2 Add salt, bay leaf, pepper in a pot of water and bring to a boil.
3 Add pork to boiling water and cook for 10 minutes, then squeeze orange juice into water and cook for additional 5 minutes. Drain meat and make sure internal temperature is at least 145 degrees.
4 Bring vegetable oil to a boil in a separate pan and fry pork chunks in the vegetable oil until golden brown turning pieces occasionally to ensure they are crispy on all sides. 9