How El Salvador’s staple food — pupusas — made their way to Central Virginia

Hispanic Heritage Month

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Araceli “Shelly” Lagunes is the woman behind the pupusas at Shelly’s Comida Latina on Staples Mill Road in Henrico, Virginia.

On Wednesday’s, Shelly offers a special that no one else has in Central Virginia — pupusas for just $1.

Pupusas are the national food of El Salvador. To make a pupusa revuelta — the most popular — you need to fill corn dough with seasoned fried pork, cheese and beans. This is then shaped into a tortilla and then grilled.

Filling for pupusas at Shelly’s (Photo: 8News)

Over the years, Lagunes’ restaurant has become a staple for those who miss their home country.

Lagunes said she is no stranger to that longing.

“I love to see how people tell me, ‘how good the pupusas are,” they remind me of El Salvador” or they remind me of my home — because that’s what it’s about,” Lagunes said.

18 years ago, Lagunes immigrated from Mexico to the United States. She credits Salvadorian people she worked with for teaching her the craft of pupusa making.

Araceli ‘Shelly’ Lagunes, owner of Shelly’s Comida Latina off of Staples Mill Road. (Photo: 8News)

 “I had to learn from the beginning. What it takes, the preparation and the flavor it had because for me it was something new,” Lagunes said.

Before opening her own restaurant, Lagunes worked for many years in other kitchens. She said that the growing number of Latinos in the area has helped her and others open businesses.

“That has helped us Latinos, economically, because it has given us the opportunity to start a business — that before seemed very hard,” Lagunes said.

Shelly’s Comida Latina is open everyday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Photo: 8News)

Lagunes specializes in all kinds of Latino foods.

She said that many times customers will ask her if she can make them a special dish from their country that is not on the menu.

Lagunes said the home food feeling is something she strives for every day.

“If you are going to eat tacos, you should feel like you are in Mexico. If you are going to eat pupusas, you should feel like you are in El Salvador,” Lagunes explained.

Pupusas cooking on the grill (Photo: 8News)

At Shelly’s you will be transported. But don’t just take her word for it.

Henry Gonzalez is one of Shelly’s loyal customers. He said he’s been eating with her for the last 10 years.

Gonzalez met Lagunes when she was cooking at another restaurant. He said Shelly cooks with love, warmth, care, purpose — every one of her moves in intentional.

 “The food from here is magnificent. It’s well cooked. It feels like it’s been cooked with love and care. And she always says that here we cook with love,” Gonzalez said.

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