My husband and I were just talking a few weeks ago about how if Nonna’s was around today, it would’ve survived.
An early graduate of the Broad Street Market, Nonna’s Deli-sioso was ahead of its time, serving wonderful in-house and takeout Italian-style deli food in a solar panel-powered house across from the Midtown Cinema.
But this was pre-HACC, pre-Zeroday and pre-#DestinationMidtown. Since Nonna’s closed, the space has been largely empty — even with hungry beer-drinkers, movie-seers and students just nearby.
Fortunately, that is changing soon, and I have a feeling this venture has some staying power.
Introducing: Mom’s Tamales and Pupusas, El Salvadoran street food, at 263 Reily St. in Midtown.
Artist rendering of Mom’s Tamales and Pupusas mural on Reily Street.
The man behind the venture is Josue Osorto — a face likely familiar to anyone who has frequented any of the many downtown restaurants where he’s honed his career in the restaurant industry.
Osorto is first-generation American. His parents emigrated from El Salvador to escape the country’s civil war in the 1980s. His mother is the inspiration for the restaurant and its menu, which features some of her recipes.
Fast Facts on Mom’s Tamales & Pupusas
- Projected Opening Date: Aug. 1
- Menu: El Salvadoran Street Food
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday
- 30 seats, plus 10 outdoor seats, weather permitting
- 10 employees, primarily part-time
- Quick-service style. Eat-in, takeout; delivery planned for downtown and midtown Harrisburg
- Free wifi for HACC students
Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador. It’s essentially a stuffed flatbread that looks more like a tortilla. Mom’s will feature your choice of chicken, cheese, steak, or veggie, each topped with a spicy Spanish cole slaw. Pupusas are all made-to-order.
“Pupusas are like the Hispanic pizza,” Osorto said.
El Salvador tamales differ from Mexican tamales in that they are wrapped in plantain leaves instead of corn husks and steamed. Mom’s will feature:
- Tamales de Elote (Fresh corncakes)
- Tamales Pisques (Tamales stuffed with black beans)
- Tamales Salvadoreños (Tamales stuffed with chicken and potatoes)
The menu also features traditional El Salvadorian sandwiches, including panes rellenos (stuffed bread), a warm chicken or turkey submarine sandwich, similar to a hoagie. The chicken or turkey is marinated and then roasted with Pipil spices and hand-pulled. This sandwich is traditionally served with tomatoes and watercress.
Mom’s also will feature three types of traditional El Salvadoran rice – white, brown, and his mother’s yellow rice recipe — as well as other traditional street food fare, including salad, corn and rice pudding for dessert, and a variety of non-alcoholic beverages.
The restaurant will be quick-service, meaning you order and purchase at the counter, and your food will be delivered to your table.
Once the restaurant gets rolling, he plans to expand the hours and menu. “The best part of El Salvador food is breakfast,” Osorto said. “Once this launches … but we’re not there yet.”
The price point is low, as well.
“I want everyone to come here,” Osorto said. “You can come here and eat good for $10.”
Osorto has nine years of experience in the Harrisburg restaurant scene, from positions at The FireHouse and MoMo’s BBQ & Grill to El Sol, Level 2 and opening Cork & Fork. For the time being, you can still find him at the Hilton, as well.
“I just love hospitality.”
It was at El Sol, where Osorto started as a server/bartender and worked his way to manager that was the eye opener for him.
“I learned a lot when Nick [Laus] gave me the opportunity to open Cork & Fork,” Osorto said. “I have a fascination with numbers and point-of-sale numbers.”
But Osorto said he’s dreamed of his own restaurant for some time.
“I was trying to get into the Broad Street Market and the West Shore Farmers Market, and couldn’t get in,” he said. “I lived nearby, and ever since this was Nonna’s, I wanted this space. It became available, and I went for it.”
Osorto is making minimal changes to the inside of the building, which has housed several restaurants. The walls have been repainted a bright blue and white — the colors of the El Salvador flag — and an outside mural has been approved by the city and will be installed in coming weeks.
Osorto said his menu is inspired largely by his mother and her food.
“I love bringing people into the city,” Osorto said. “[And] I want people to know El Salvador culture.”
He hopes his successes can allow him to someday return to El Salvador to provide opportunities for kids in wrestling, arts, fashion, and more.
“It’s a very poor country,” he said.
Mom’s Tamales & Pupusas is slated to open on Aug. 1. Stay tuned for details on a soft opening.