For Puerto Rican Food in Denver, Find the Areyto Food Truck | Westword

For a Taste of Puerto Rican Food in Denver, Find the Areyto Food Truck

It gained notoriety in 2020 after appearing on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives the month before the pandemic hit.
The Puerto Rican Bowl is served over arroz con gandules (pigeon peas rice) with a side of tostones.
The Puerto Rican Bowl is served over arroz con gandules (pigeon peas rice) with a side of tostones. Chris Byard
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Yari Ortiz was living in Puerto Rico but wanted to make the move to the United States. One of her best friends had moved to Colorado and suggested that she should do the same. "And I did, not even visiting or knowing anything about Colorado, and it's the state that I've lived in the most," Ortiz says.

Erik Carballo is from El Salvador. "My family is what brought me here," he says. "My mom and two brothers live here. My mom is a U.S. citizen, and she got my resident card to the States, so I moved here in 2013."

The two met by chance at a mutual friend's birthday party, where they shared stories from back home and immediately formed a friendship. "Obviously, being a Puerto Rican, the first thing you do is look for your food, and I realized that there wasn't any at all," Ortiz recalls. "So that's kind of when we saw an opportunity."

"At that time, there weren't any Puerto Rican restaurants or food trucks in Denver, so we were like, we need to open something here," adds Carballo. In May 2016, Areyto hit the streets of Denver.
click to enlarge a black food truck
Areyto made a Westword list of best food trucks in 2018.
Chris Byard
When it launched, neither Ortiz nor Carballo had any professional cooking experience. "We were tired of the corporate world and didn't want to work for anybody else," says Ortiz. "We wanted to do something different and saw an opportunity. The base of the recipes was there. I learned a lot from my family, my mom and my grandparents, which are incorporated in what we do on the food truck, so we took those recipes and we made it our own."

"You know, we just love to cook," adds Carballo.

Seven years in, the team has gained a lot of fans in the community, though owning a food truck is a lot of hard work. "People think that it's fun to run a truck, but it's not always fun. I mean, we have fun, but most of the time, it's a very stressful environment," Carballo admits. "You have to cook, and our food is very hard to prep and very hard to make. People assume that it's fast food like McDonald's or something, but it's not. ... We're very busy all the time."

Adds Ortiz: "Obviously, this is your thing and you want it to be successful, but I didn't think that we would have all the opportunities we've actually had in these seven years." One of her most memorable experiences was serving 450 Southwest employees at Denver International Airport. "We were driving our truck in between airplanes and stuff. That was really cool and a lot of fun," she recalls. "As we were leaving, we got amazing pictures of airplanes coming at us. It was such a cool experience."
click to enlarge three fried pastries in a to-go box
Fried empanadillas are a Puerto Rican version of hand pies.
Chris Byard
In 2019, Ortiz and Carballo caught the attention of Guy Fieri, who invited them to make an appearance on his popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. "We filmed in November of 2019, and then it aired in February, the month before the pandemic, which was like the best thing for us, because we were out there and no restaurants were open," says Ortiz.

"A lot of people watch the show, and after, it was just like lines. People used to wait two to three hours for the food. It was definitely a busy year for us," Carballo adds. 

If you are new to Puerto Rican food, the mofongo is a must-try. "It's such a staple Puerto Rican dish. It has plantains — that's the base. We flavor it with spices, make the mold and then fill it with meat. It takes time to make this dish, especially from scratch, so it's definitely a treat," Ortiz says.

As is the jibarito (plantain sandwich). "It's a very involved dish," Ortiz continues, "but the mofongo, to me, encapsulates what Puerto Rico is, and it's such a popular dish there. It's a very special-occasion thing."

From empanadillas, a Puerto Rican version of hand pies, to tostones — smashed and crispy fried green plantains — Areyto transports diners to Puerto Rico through food.

To find the truck, follow it on Instagram @areytofoodtruck, where it posts its full schedule.
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