There’s not a ton of Salvadoran cuisine to be found in Denver. Fortunately for the dining public, three sisters — Silvia, Claudia and Angelica Quijada — have begun to change that, opening three restaurants across the Denver metro since 2017. Angelica first broke off on her own, opening two Pupusas Paradises — one in Lakewood and one and Aurora — with Silvia and Claudia joining the game in May 2018 with the opening of Pupusas Lover.
Situated in a South Colorado strip mall that has largely been home to Middle Eastern cuisine — they share the parking lot with House of Kebab, Middle East Market, Kasbah Cafe and Damascus Grill — Pupusas Lover serves a strong menu of its eponymous dish alongside a range of sweet and savory staples that all give a strong sense of home cooking. Pupusas Lover is cozy, with Silvia and Claudia preparing food that is both transporting and intimate, each item a clear display of the great deal of pride the sisters have for the traditions they brought from home.
Both sisters headed stateside to escape. Each arriving from Metapan — a city in the Santa Ana department of El Salvador — Silvia got to Los Angeles in 1999 with Claudia joining her after the massive earthquake that devastated the country in 2001 made existing tensions even harder to bear. Claudia’s life in California was short and sweet, with the sisters relocating to Denver not more than two weeks after she landed at Silvia’s doorstep. Since landing in Colorado, all three sisters have dreamed of opening restaurants, with opportunities arriving for each at the tail end of the 2010s. Though Silvia and Claudia say this is only the first of what will hopefully be many Pupusas Lovers, with the duo setting their eyes on another Denver and possibly a Boulder location as the market allows.
Even as Pupusas Paradise and Pupusas Lover share some fundamental underpinnings, Silvia and Claudia have made a point to distinguish their restaurant from their sister’s operation. The pupusa menus appear linked, with plenty of difference across the additional offerings.
The menu includes nearly 20 pupusas, a fittingly large selection to match the moniker. Made from a combination of corn and rice flour, the dense pockets are generously filled with a range of meat and vegetables often being glued together by melted mozzarella that forms a damn near perfect crust where it oozes from the seams. “It’s called Pupusas Lover because anyone who tries the pupusas, they love it,” beamed Claudia.
The revuelta ($4) comes with beans, cheese and pork and is the most popular both here and in El Salvador, though it’s the loroco and cheese ($4.25) — that comes with a solid helping of the boldly-flavored edible flower distinct to Central America — that really shines a spotlight on the sisters’ mastery of the style. Each pupusa is best served topped with the house-made slaw and house-made hot sauce — a vivid concoction of carrots, tomato and peppers.
Though pupusas sit center stage, the rest of the menu makes a good case for the eminence of the supporting acts. The shredded chicken sandwich ($10.99) sees a sturdy French loaf stacked high with shredded chicken, slaw and what could only be described as a full floral arrangement of escabeche. It’s also the one item on the menu that’s not gluten-free. The Salvadoran enchiladas ($9.95) differ from their Mexican counterpart — instead topping a thick tortilla of house-fried corn flour with the same shredded chicken and a layer of beans, potato, carrots, chayote, pickled cabbage, boiled egg and feta cheese.
The best way to try the full gamut is the mixed plate ($21.95) which comes with both savory — a pupusa, a savory empanada, fried yucca and a chicken or pork banana leaf tamal — and sweet delicacies — a sweet corn tamal, fried plantains, a plantain empanada and a house-made sour cream and cheese dipping sauce. Also not to be missed is the yucca nuggets ($7.95) which see deep-fried morsels of yucca covered with slices of fried plantain. It’s essential to add the chelate ($1) — a corn and cacao hot porridge — that cuts the dish’s sweetness either as punctuating slurps or poured over. While Claudia says the dish is customarily consumed between 2 – 4 p.m., it’s delicious at any hour of the day. With the Quijadas’ longtime dream coming to fruition, taking the time to enjoy a pupusa or two is well worth a drive down Colorado Boulevard.
Pupusas Lover is located at 2236 South Colorado Blvd., Denver. It is open Tuesday – Saturday from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.