Austin in a Pocket: Pupusería 503 y Más

Pupusería 503 y Más is a small but mighty food truck that serves pupusas with recipes straight from El Salvador

By Regine Malibiran
Photographs by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
Austin in a Pocket: Pupusería 503 y Más

On the northwest corner of Lamar Boulevard and Justin Lane there’s often a line of hungry people braving the unpredictable Texas weather to wait for a meal. Husband and wife duo Victor and Doris Monterroso opened Pupusería 503 y Más almost two years ago after Doris Monterroso’s previous employer let her go. At the time it was a blow to the family, but it was also an opportunity to start a business and share Central American food with their community.

Pupusas are a traditional Salvadorian dish dating back almost 2000 years. Masa, or ground cornmeal, is stuffed with cheese, meat and/or beans and cooked on a hot griddle until each side crisps up and the middle oozes with melted cheese.

According to the Monterrosos, you aren’t doing it right unless you eat your pupusa with a hefty serving of curtido (a homemade vinegar cole slaw flecked with whole red chiles) and tomato salsa. 

Doris Monterroso, the head chef, uses recipes based on what she learned cooking with her mother as a young girl in her hometown of San Miguel, El Salvador. She makes every pupusa and jar of curtido that leaves their window, making sure each is up to her mother’s standard.

“The funny thing is, at the house all these years, Doris barely cooked. Our family was surprised that she makes really good pupusas,” her husband jokes. “She gets a lot of compliments that her pupusas taste the most homemade in the city.”

Victor Monterroso was born in Guatemala, which neighbors El Salvador, and remembers going to parks in Guatemala City on the weekends with his family. Typically there would be a variety of food vendors there selling treats like pupusas, tostadas and hot drinks. For the Monterrosos, pupusas represent a piece of the homes and people they left behind in their native countries.

Before moving to Austin, Victor Monterroso’s parents were teachers. When he was a young child, his father went on strike along with many other Guatemalan laborers. The president retaliated by putting the protesters on a blacklist and rendered his father unable to work in the country. At that point his father had to make a life or death decision that many immigrants face: either stay in a heavily corrupt country where he had minimal opportunity to provide for his family, or leave in search of a better, safer life. 

Ultimately his father chose to pursue a better life for his family in the U.S. A few years later, Victor Monterroso, his mother, and his three younger brothers followed him there.  

“I was only 11,” he recalls. “My youngest brother was barely a year old. It took us over a month to drive from Guatemala to Austin, where my grandfather lived.” 

Though his family moved for a better life, young Victor Monterroso had a difficult time adjusting to the new country, culture and language that he was suddenly thrown into. At age 15 he ran away from home and couch surfed at friends’ houses for weeks.

 

Discover more of Austin’s best pocket food – like Steamies Dumplings

 

“I wasn’t happy,” he admits. “Back in Guatemala we were poor but at least everybody was happy. Here, life is faster. That was something that took me years to understand.”

Eventually, he tired of hopping from place to place and asked one of his friends if he could stay with his family permanently. It was at that duplex that he met his wife. Her family was a generous one. Despite being immigrants with limited resources themselves, they not only housed him but also helped him find a job as a dishwasher at Baby Acapulco on Riverside, where he made $4.25 an hour.

“When you’re coming from rock bottom, you’re not scared of failure. Even if I fail, I’ve already been there,” says Victor Monterroso.

With this mindset, when the Monterrosos opened their food truck their work ethic and confidence in themselves allowed them to do it fearlessly. In order to provide stability for their family as they pursue their shared dreams, Victor Monterroso works a full-time job in maintenance on the weekdays while Doris Monterroso manages and cooks at the food truck. In the evenings when he gets off work, he joins his wife to provide extra assistance for the dinner crowd after a long day of serving customers.

Eventually the couple hopes to pass their business down to their kids, and that Pupusería 503 y Más will continue to grow. Both their teenagers, Kimberly and Diego Monterroso, help out at the food truck (their green salsa is Diego’s own recipe). The family’s next goal is to open a brick and mortar and expand the communities they are able to serve in Austin.

In the meantime, make sure to try their authentic pupusas (be generous with the curtido) at their current North Lamar location! 

The World in a Pocket is dedicated to exploring the world through the lens of a dumpling. From mandu to empanadas, spanakopita to gyoza, pierogi to Pop-Tarts, this is our love letter to pockets worldwide and the stories they tell. These beloved staples all share a similar food-inside-of-food structure, while providing a delicious way to understand our world. We are excited to bring TRIBEZA readers Austin in a Pocket, where Regine Malibiran has teamed up with TWIP co-founder and photographer Mackenzie Smith Kelley to shine a light on local pocket makers.


Read More From the Style Issue | September 2019


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