Puerto Rican cuisine is nearly impossible to find in the metro area. Native Puerto Rican Alex Rivera made it just a little easier when he started serving pasteles, alcapurias, arroz con gandules, pernil, mofongo and other traditional dishes earlier this year from his food truck, El Coquí D Aquí, which parks at 14200 East Colfax Avenue in Aurora on the weekends. Now Rivera is planning a permanent home for El Coquí, at 2236 South Colorado Boulevard, to bring the food of his home to Denver.
Rivera says he hopes to open on September 24 in a spot that was most recently the Morning Side Cafe (which closed earlier this month). The menu will be similar to the food-truck menu, but with more options, since Rivera and his wife, Diana Rodriguez, will have more room to work. He has also applied for a liquor license so that he can serve Medalla beer, an island original, as well as cocktails.
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But he wants El Coquí (named after a Puerto Rican indigenous frog) to be primarily a family restaurant, not a bar. Over the next few weeks, he'll be remodeling the restaurant in "straight Puerto Rican style from the }50s," with corrugated steel and weathered woods to give the place a lived-in feel. Puerto Rican musical styles — bomba, plena, merengue and salsa — will play in the dining room and a karaoke night could also be part of the mix.
Rivera thinks El Coquí could be the first Puerto Rican restaurant in Denver — ever. "I've talked to people at the truck who have been here for more than 25 years who say, 'I've been waiting for this for so long,'" he explains.
In fact, Puerto Rican cuisine is rare throughout the Rocky Mountain region. "Two cars came up from New Mexico recently just to eat our food," Rivera notes, explaining that you'll occasionally find Puerto Rican dishes around town on menus, but they generally don't use the right spices or the sofrito base critical to the flavor profile of so many dishes.
You'll be able to get a taste for lunch and dinner seven days a week when El Coquí D Aquí opens at the end of next month. Until then, Rivera's food truck will be in its usual location for weekend lunches.