Global Cuisine

This Mexican Market in Silverthorne Serves Stellar Tacos and More

The food at Carniceria La Perla is made with care.
The food at Carniceria La Perla is made with care. Eva Jee
There are two things we can all agree on when it comes to a road trip along I-70: The views are fantastic, but the traffic is not. When you need a break from countless brake-lit miles, there’s a small kitchen tucked inside an unassuming storefront just off the highway exit in Silverthorne serving stellar Mexican fare.

Carniceria La Perla operates as part of Mercado La Perla, a Mexican market perched along the west side of Route 9. It opened in Silverthorne more than twenty years ago as a tortilleria and liquor store. Since then, the store has undergone changes in ownership, name and inventory. Now it’s run by co-owners Efrain Adame and Santiago Rodriguez, who are both originally from Mexico and have worked in restaurants along I-70 for many years.

Eight years ago, the two became friends while working together at Butterhorn Bakery & Cafe in Frisco. In October 2018, they purchased La Perla and have since focused their efforts on expanding the market’s offerings while serving multitudes of hungry diners.
Like most Colorado mountain towns, Silverthorne is growing exponentially. The valley is rapidly expanding, with newly built residences, restaurants, breweries, event spaces and the recently opened Hotel Indigo and Bluebird Market food hall. With development booming, it’s clear the town is doubling down on its efforts to become a dynamic destination, not just a pit stop.

Adame estimates that in 2018, only 10 percent of the store’s business came from tourists, but now, out-of-town visitors make up a significant portion of its customer base. Changes within the local Latino population are also evident, as Summit County’s workforce sees an increase in individuals from South and Central America. La Perla now carries items such as frozen Colombian sausage and cheese from Nicaragua to  fulfill the cravings of these communities.

While real estate around town continues to change, La Perla’s commitment to serving flavorful, affordable Mexican food remains the same. The foundation of the eatery's menu is built upon a variety of tacos, burritos and tortas — each expertly assembled using traditionally prepared meats. Tacos are priced individually, allowing for a delightful choose-your-own adventure atop fresh corn or flour tortillas ($2.50-$2.99); standouts include the carne asada and al pastor.
The substantial torta sandwiches are built on soft, griddled rolls and include your choice of meat layered with refried beans, lettuce, tomato and onion. Wedges of avocado and queso fresco are also added, creating a textural symphony within each bite ($10.99). Burrito lovers will be pleased to see both plain and smothered options on the menu — the latter involving a landslide of green chile, melted cheese and a generous drizzle of sour cream ($10.99-$11.99).

A selection of daily specials is always available as well, and often includes dishes such as caldo de res (a brothy beef stew with vegetables), chuleta ahumada (a smoked pork chop platter) and pozole, the traditional soup made with pork and hominy. All of the menu items are available for takeout, or you can dine in at one of the restaurant's brightly painted tables.

Not to be missed is La Perla’s self-serve salsa bar. Staples like chopped cilantro and sliced radish are available; however, the real stars are the freshly made salsas and pickles. A dash of the fiery, orange-hued hot sauce will surprise even the bravest of heat seekers, while the tomatillo-avocado salsa cools things down a notch. Pro tip: Skip the plain diced onion and reach for the pickled onions instead. Tossed with habanero chiles and oregano, these ruby-red slivers pack the perfect acidic punch.
The bright and colorful store is transportive — a sentiment Adame says is echoed by many of his customers. The narrow aisles are jam-packed with fresh produce, imported pantry goods and unique kitchenware. Rainbow-colored piñatas hang above the beverage cooler, and behind the restaurant counter, large pots of carnitas simmer away alongside heaping mounds of charred tomatillos.

Rodriguez peers out from behind the meat case, eyeing the growing line of lunch customers; he oversees every aspect of the kitchen operations. Part butcher, part cook, part kitchen manager, he does it all. The staff at La Perla take tremendous pride in making their products fresh from scratch. The “red sauce,” a kitchen staple that seasons everything from carnitas to burritos, is actually a recipe from Rodriguez’s mother, he says, smiling proudly.

This bustling spot, with its kind staff and gracious service, is a must-stop on your mountain excursions.

Carniceria La Perla is located at 1161 Blue River Parkway in Silverthorne and is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. For more information, call 970-368-6767.
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Eva Jee is a freelance writer and food stylist. In 2019, she moved from Philadelphia to Denver, acclimating quickly to the mountain lifestyle. Happiest when hiking or skiing, she is also an avid cook and baker.