Central Bistro and Bar, the urban eatery that has helped anchor the LoHi dining scene since opening in 2012, will serve its last customers this weekend before closing for three weeks to convert to a new concept from current owner Isiah Salazar and chef Jesse Vega. The two will relaunch the restaurant as Candela Latin Kitchen at the end of June, with a menu that draws from Salazar's Mexican heritage with Vega's Puerto Rican roots, plus influences from other Latin American regions.
"Last year we hosted a Rum Diary dinner...where chef Jesse put together a Puerto Rican menu," Salazar explains. The dinner was a big success, and Central had always had great luck with Latin-based brunch dishes like chilaquiles and breakfast burritos, so the two started planning a complete conversion, dropping the restaurant's New American and European-inspired offerings on which the eatery was founded, first under chef Lance Barto and then under Matt Selby before Vega took the helm.
Central will serve weekend brunch tomorrow and Sunday, then close after Sunday's dinner service — which will include happy hour all night. Salazar and Vega will then put the new menu in place and retrain staff while some minor changes are made to the interior of the restaurant. Salazar notes that the giant "Hot" sign, a remnant from the old Regency Hotel that his family now operates as student housing, will remain in place. In fact, the name Candela was inspired by the warm orange glow the sign casts on the dining room.
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When Candela opens, tacos will be front and center. "I wanted to see tacos on the menu," Salazar explains, "because of my Mexican heritage and because I grew up in north Denver."
There will also be mofongo, a Puerto Rican staple made from fried and mashed plantains; Vega's version will be offered with a choice of meats like shrimp, chicken or beef. Raw oysters and ceviche, empanadas and other specialties from the Caribbean and South America will round out the roster, and everything will be priced at $16 or less.
Salazar says the demographic of the neighborhood has gotten younger, while rent and other expenses have continued to climb, so he wanted his restaurant to appeal to casual diners who may not want to drop big dollars on full entrees. The casual style of the restaurant and menu will better reflect what his customers are looking for, he adds.
Sounds like it could be hot.