Monday, June 20, 2011

El Boricua at the Puerto Rican Festival in Stapleton

Last weekend, for all things Puerto Rican in Denver, one had to travel to of all places, Stapleton. I can't say for sure, but I somehow doubt that Denver's newest neighborhood has an overwhelmingly high census of puertorriqueños. And just for that reason, it was good to see the streets around Stapleton's Central Park full of boricuas and people of all different backgrounds coming together to celebrate the lovely Isla del Encanto.

Officially called A Taste of Puerto Rico Festival, this Puerto Rican-centric party is held on the second weekend of June to coincide with National Puerto Rican Day. It was all centered around a stage with live salsa music and dancing, but also included a spattering of vendors, musicians and other entertainment including this circle of congas:

It put me in such a boricua state of mind that I was tempted to buy something with the Puerto Rican flag on it, but I just couldn't decide between the mesh or plain cotton sleeveless t-shirt. In addition to being able to buy the Puerto Rican flag emblazoned on everything from tank tops to key chains to bikinis, there was a tent with a barber who would, for a nominal fee, shave it into your head. Enticing as all of that was, I was, as you may have expected, on the lookout for some comida puertorriqueña.

There are no Puerto Rican restaurants in Denver as far as I know, which is a shame. Puerto Rican food is for the most part delicious, simple and I imagine it would appeal to many more than just homesick puertorriqueños. While rice and beans, or arroz con habichuelas, as it is called on the island, is a ubiquitous staple, there is a lot more to the cuisine. I am no expert, but from what I know, there is a lot of use a lot of plantains and other tropical fruits, as well as unique variants of dishes found in other Latin American countries -- and then of course there is the famous lechón.

As a half-Filipino, where roast pig-on-a-spit is also called lechón, any cuisine that features a crisp-skinned suckling pig slow cooked over fire on a spit is a cuisine I am going to like. I didn't expect to find a lechón asado roasting at the festival that day, so I wasn't disappointed when I got there and didn't see one. But what was surprising was that upon arriving to the self-proclaimed "Taste of Puerto Rico" festival, was that I couldn't immediayely see a Puerto Rican food stall. There was one easily spied stall called "Spicy Mexican Food", and another boldly advertising "Sno Cones and Lemonade", but it was a nameless tent tucked behind a Puerto Rican souvenir stall (everything, for that matter, was tucked behind a Puerto Rican souvenir stall) that held the festival's only comida puertorriqueña.

While there was no sign advertising the business (a good sign), there were a few small signs laying out the day's menu options, all with some variation on rice, beans, pork and plantain. There were also empanadillas, which is Puerto Rican for empanada--not to be confused with the breaded steak you will get when ordering an empanada while there.

We did order a few empanadillas, which were filled with beef, deep fried and absolutely fantastic. I imagine most people can imagine how good crisp-fried dough filled with juicy ground beef tastes, so here, in lieu of a description, is a picture:

Besides the empanadillas, there were really only two dishes not "X'd" off the menu board, so we got those. Both dishes featured pernil, which if there is no lechón, is in all likelihood the next best thing. Pernil is slow-cooked pork seasoned with a Puerto Rican adobo, which as far as I can tell has things like garlic, vinegar, oregano and maybe something citrus-y. This pernil was succulent and flavorful, with a deep flavor that comes from careful preparation and slow, slow cooking.

Dish 1

Both dishes had tostones, which are smashed and fried, or fried and smashed, plantains. Actually I think the proper order is fry, smash and then fry again. Either way when there are plantains involved with frying, the results are generally good, and these tostones were no exception.

Dish 2

And of course there were the rice and beans. On one plate was the aforementioned arroz con habichuelas (dish 2), and the other plate featured pigeon peas, or gandules. I am a great aficionado of simple foods like rice and beans, and I appreciate when they are not just thrown on the side of plate as an afterthought. Therefore I thoroughly enjoyed my Puerto Rican beans and rice from this nameless stall, which obviously took pride in their execution.

We did end up going back over and asking what the place was called, and after some discussion amongst the vendors, we were told "El Boricua", with a giggle. So it is. Be on the lookout for El Boricua at Denver street festivals this summer for a rare slice of Puerto Rico in Denver that won't disappoint. If you don't find it this year, then make sure to block your calander for next year's Puerto Rican Festival in Stapleton's Central Park.


  1. Sounds like a fun time, have to love rice and beans. Would have loved to have seen a barber shaving a flag into someone’s head!

  2. Hi there, just so you know my name is Alex,, and I was reading your comments on the puertorican festival, and how much you like puertorican food,, I am opening a puerto rican food truck in lakewood, its called El Coqui D Aqui,, come and visit us,, call or text at 303 907 4824,, hope to see you there.

  3. I'm new to the Denver area and would love to connect with other Puerto Ricans. Hit me up!

  4. Just moved to Denver this past August. I am from Florida and my closest friends are Puerto Ricans would love to connect with some Boricuas in Denver and have great times like I did with my friends back home. I am Venezuelan and Puerto Ricans are just like us so I love that culture similarity. Hope to hear from someone soon, too bad I didn't find this post earlier, would have enjoyed some parrandas and coquito con unos pasteles, arroz con gandules y lechon :D Merry Xmas!



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