How do you turn a time-worn breakfast joint into a brand-new Puerto Rican restaurant in just under a month? You do the work yourself. That's what Alex Rivera, owner of El Coquí D'Aquí, did. Taking the food-truck concept that he'd originally launched in 2011, Rivera and his wife, Diana, opened a brick-and-mortar version of El Coquí at 2236 South Colorado Boulevard (which was previously the Morning Side Cafe) this week.
The Puerto Rican restaurant hosted soft openings over the weekend, but today is its first official day in business. Rivera, a construction contractor by day, says he worked through the night, sometimes until 3 or 5 a.m., to convert the space into a bright, colorful beach-style eatery.
Diana is responsible for the menu and the cooking, which will be an expansion of the truck's original menu. That means plenty of pork — in the form of carne frita (fried), pernil asado (slow-roasted) and chuletas can can (chops sliced into a fan shape and cooked until the fatty edge is crunchy). Plantains, rice and beans (called habichuelas in Puerto Rico, not frijoles) fill out the roster, along with seafood offerings and appetizers called alcapurrias — similar to empanadas, only with a shell made from starches common to Puerto Rico (like green banana or yuca).
A liquor license is in the works, but in the meantime, non-alcoholic Puerto Rican beverages like Malta India (similar to Malta Goya, only made with real cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup) are available, and Rivera hopes to add Puerto Rican coffee soon.
Now that his brick-and-mortar spot is open, Rivera plans to sell his food truck. El Coquí D'Aquí is a full-service restaurant open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The small dining room holds 28 seats, divided between tables and two bar-height counters. Rivera says his customers already think he should expand, but he prefers to grow slowly, making sure that Denver's demand for Puerto Rican cuisine is strong.