Sad as it was to see one of Denver's only Puerto Rican restaurants, El Coqui D'Aqui, close up shop at 2236 South Colorado Boulevard, there's at least consolation in what took its place. Pupusas Lover opened just a few weeks ago, serving a wide variety of Salvadoran cuisine.
Pupusas Lover is owned by Claudia Quijada, a native of El Salvador who has lived in Denver since 2001. She explains that the dishes of her country vary from region to region and she wanted to serve those dishes the way she learned to make them from her own family. Of course, pupusas, the flat, corn masa pockets filled with meats, cheeses and vegetables, are a big part of Quijada's menu. But there are plenty of other specialties to fall in love with.
The first thing to know when reading a Salvadoran menu is that some of the names of dishes may look familiar from Mexican restaurants, but in El Salvador those names mean something completely different. Chicharrón, for example, is not fried pork skin, but fried pork minced almost to a paste and used as a filling for pupusas, with or without cheese. Tamales are similar to those found in southern Mexico, wrapped in a banana leaf before steaming. But Pupusas Lover also serves a sweet corn (elote) tamal as a dessert.
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Enchiladas, though, are the most different from their Mexican counterpart. At Pupusas lover, they're similar to a tostada. A handmade corn tortilla, tinted orange with a little achiote in the masa, is fried until it's slightly crisp and puffy before being topped with black beans, finely shredded chicken, hard-boiled egg, crumbled queso and mild salsa. Curtido, a slaw-like cabbage salad that almost always accompanies pupusas, also tops the enchiladas. These are manageable as a handheld item, but the toppings are piled high, so using a fork is a better bet.
The clapping sound coming from the kitchen is evidence that the pupusas are being made fresh to order. They come stuffed with a number of traditional ingredients — cheese, chicharrón, loroco (a tropical flower bud) — as well as the bean, cheese and chicharrón mix known as revuelta. Pupusas Lover also has shrimp or fish pupusas, or an overstuffed beast called the Loca, filled with pork, beans, cheese, loroco, zucchini and chicken. Daily specials include soups, stews, steak and onions and a chayote relleno — a chayote squash stuffed with cheese and fried in an egg batter.
Some of the beach-shack decor in the dining room is left over from the previous tenant, but Salvadoran art and crafts decorate the walls, adding to the ambience of the tidy shop.
Pupusas Lover is currently open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day but Monday. Call 720-508-3197 for more details.