We were sad to see one of Denver's only Puerto Rican restaurants, El Coqui D'Aqui, close earlier this year at 2236 South Colorado Boulevard (even if the replacement, Pupusas Lover, is a great addition to the area). But it turns out that El Coqui didn't go out of business; owners Alex and Diana Rivera simply ran out of space for their growing legion of loyal customers. While we've had to go all summer without a taste of Puerto Rican cooking, the Riveras will soon reopen their restaurant in a bigger space and with a new name.
Puerto Rico 5280 will open at 3109 Federal Boulevard with a bigger menu, a full bar, and plenty of room for karaoke, DJs, live music and dancing. "We're shooting for mid-September," Alex Rivera says.
As at his original restaurant on Colorado Boulevard, Rivera is doing all the interior work himself, creating a space that will, like El Coqui, offer a Puerto Rican beach-style theme, but will also take inspiration from the brightly painted historic buildings of Old San Juan. The exterior of the building, which has been vacant since Brewshine BBQ closed more than two years ago, will receive an Old San Juan paint job, and one corner of the dining room will also mimic a street corner of Puerto Rico's capital city.
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Rivera explains that the restaurant outgrew its original space, which had seating for fewer than thirty guests. Weekends were especially packed, since Puerto Ricans from all over Colorado and neighboring states would drive to Denver to eat at El Coqui. The new dining room will more than double the seating, and there's also a long bar that can seat another two dozen, from which Rivera plans to serve draft beers, Puerto Rican cocktails and frappes.
The owner also points out that the bigger property, located just north of the intersection of Federal and Speer Boulevard, also comes with its own parking, making it easier for those destination diners to arrive without fear of being towed (since the parking scene at the strip mall where El Coqui was located is somewhat cutthroat).
The Riveras originally ran El Coqui D'Aqui as a food truck, but soon realized that the demand for Puerto Rican food was more than they could keep up with. They sold the truck after opening their restaurant, and business has continued to grow.
After El Coqui D'Aqui opened two years ago and Candela Latin Kitchen began serving Puerto Rican specialties last summer, Puerto Rican cuisine was looking to become a trend in Denver — but then both restaurants closed within a two-month span. The imminent arrival of Puerto Rico 5280 means we'll once again be able to indulge in pernil, carne frita, mofongo, arroz con habichuelas and other specialties of the Caribbean island.