Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A fond farewell to a vestige of Latino Silver Lake

Adios, Restaurante y Pupuseria - the empty storefront on February 13, 2011
Adios, Restaurante y Pupuseria - the empty storefront on February 13, 2011
Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

I was driving through Silver Lake the other day when I saw something I'd expected to see eventually, but hoped I wouldn't: an empty storefront at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Hyperion Avenue where a tiny Salvadoran pupuseria had stood for years, tucked between an upscale gelateria and a dentist office.

It was a little closet of a place, marked only with an awning reading "Restaurante y Pupuseria," which in recent years had been updated from a lighter color to a hipper black, perhaps to blend in with the adjacent gelateria's dark color scheme. Its passing seems to have gone largely unnoticed. Searching for an obituary of some kind, I found only a mention in Urban Spoon, which posted a simple notice advising "Closed: Pupuseria." I called the dentist's office next door and they told me that it closed about a month ago, and that the space is being prepared for another restaurant. A German place, they thought.

As tiny and insignificant as the little pupuseria might have been, I'd been watching it for years, and not only because I loved its steaming pupusas. To me, it represented one of the last remaining traces of a long ago Silver Lake that I remember fondly, a working class neighborhood that was home to a thriving Latino immigrant community, including my family. A few of the old Latino businesses hang on, though they seem increasingly out of place.

When I was a kid, before we moved east to Huntington Park, my family lived in an apartment just a stone's throw from that corner, a second-story unit on Hyperion south of Sunset. We did our wash at Launderland, shopped for cheap household items at the military surplus. The children from my complex, all of us from somewhere in Latin America, played in the asphalt parking lot and picked the yerba buena that grew wild at the lot's edge.

The pupuseria arrived years after my family left, but it was there when I moved back to Silver Lake in the 1990s as part returning immigrant kid, part gentrifying hipster. I loved that this neighborhood which I was intimately familiar with suited these two identities, that I could shop for vintage dresses around the corner and, just a few paces away, pick up fresh chiles and other Latin products at a Mexican meat market.

Even then, the neighborhood was changing fast. I moved away from Silver Lake about nine years ago, eventually leaving Los Angeles for years. Each time I visited, I marveled at how much the neighborhood had transformed. The Latino-owned upholstery shop at the Sunset Junction gave way to Lovecraft Biofuels. The site of my favorite meat market on Sunset gave way to businesses that now include Intelligentsia Coffee and the Silver Lake Conservatory of Music. The gelateria opened on the other side of the street. Year after year, the pupuseria was still there, clinging to its little glass storefront.

One evening a couple of summers ago, I stopped in to talk to an employee as he cleaned up for the night. I asked him how they managed to stay in business on what had become such a high-rent strip. "It's tough," I remember him saying. They drew some late-night diners and that helped, he said, but as he wiped down the few plastic tables, I knew its days were numbered.

I'll miss the tenacious pupuseria, whose story is all too familiar in an evolving city whose communities are created and recreated as different groups of people come and go.

Goodbye, Restaurante y Pupuseria.