In an alley behind the mainstreet of Old Colorado City in Colorado, between a parking lot and a back street, is a building that houses Monse’s Taste of El Salvador Pupusería. In a neighborhood where “old” is the “new” and intimate and diverse restaurants are taking off, Monse’s Pupusería fits in perfectly. The small restaurant has a fresh, urban feel, like many of the restaurants in the area, while adding a uniquely Salvadorean flavor.
One Saturday in February, my husband surprised me for a lunch date by driving into the parking lot behind the busy main shopping center of Old Colorado City and into the neighborhood street where Monse’s is located. We walked up to the restaurant through a large outdoor patio where patrons can dine with their dogs on a warm summer day. (Eating with your dog is a must for us dog-loving Coloradans!) As we opened the door, we immediately became the back of a line that almost stretched outside. But the little girl taking orders was fast and moved the customers through efficiently. We were soon looking over a menu and deciding what to order as customers continued to flow in.
We saw instantly that this is one of those places where customers go regularly and are treated like family. The owner’s daughter took orders and another girl her age ran back to the kitchen with the orders. When we sat down, we saw Monse, the owner and founder, talking with her regulars and getting to know her first-time customers. I wanted to stay all day sipping on the house-made horchata (a rice and cinnamon drink served over ice), chatting the time by.
My husband and I were first introduced to pupusas last summer when we were moving houses. We drove with a mattress bungee-corded to the roof of the truck we borrowed from my dad on our way to our first house to finish painting. It was a beautiful, warm day, and we were starving. We were getting to that point of hunger where patience is thin, and the hanger was starting to come out. It was then that I saw a food truck to the side of the road that read “Pupusas”. “Turn around!” I yelled to my husband, “I know what we’re having for lunch!” And those thick corn tortillas filled with beans, cheese, and loroco (a Central American edible flower) did not disappoint! We’ve been obsessed ever since.
But we never saw that food truck again and all but gave up hope until my husband surprised me and brought me to Monse’s.
We ordered the Chalchuapa Plate (named after Monse’s hometown in El Salvador), consisting of two sides and 5 pupusas. Of the eight varieties of pupusas, we had organic black beans and cheese, local green chili and cheese, and organic zucchini and cheese from the vegetarian menu. We also ordered the organic pinto beans with garlic and organic pinto beans with loroco from the vegan options. For sides we ordered beans and rice and the traditional Salvadorean coleslaw, curtido.
Whenever I go on a date with my husband, I always evaluate the success of a meal by how silent it was. If the food is good, we are too busy eating to talk to each other. (That’s what the drive back home is for, right?) When the pupusas arrived on a bed of banana leaves, the meal was silent, with the occasional “Mmmm” and “Oh, did you try this one? It’s even better than the last!” of course.
At one point my husband asked for hot sauce, and the waitress asked how hot: “Mild, medium, or hot?”
“Hot” was his answer, but she came back with two bottles.
“This one is hot,” she said, putting one bottle on the table. “And this one is Salvadorean hot.”
He soon learned what “Salvadorean hot” meant.
A few minutes later, she came back to check on the meal. “Wow! You are really working through those!” she exclaimed. No kidding there. We were already four pupusas down with half of one left. Crispy on the outside, while creamy and flavorful on the inside, it was too amazing to stop eating, but pupusas are filling. Even though I just took bites of the vegetarian ones to taste them, I still couldn’t finish my two vegan pupusas. Luckily, my husband doesn’t know the meaning of the word “full,” and he happily finished them off. The cool, vinegary curtido was the perfect accompaniment to the warm pupusas. Both my husband and I agreed, however, that the rice and beans stole the show. Such a humble side dish, but seasoned as perfectly as these were, we couldn’t put it down.
Monse’s all started in October 2011 with her dream of selling pupusas in the frozen aisle of local grocery stores around Colorado Springs. She created a logo and packaging with barcodes, and when she approached Whole Foods to carry her product, she was accepted the very same day! By June 2012, after mountains of paperwork and inspections, the pupusas were on the shelves of grocery stores all over the state of Colorado, including Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Ranch Foods Direct, Mountain Mama’s, and others. In 2013, Monse signed a contract to sell 5,000 pupusas a month for the cafeteria at the University of Colorado in Boulder. This opened the door to selling pupusas to other colleges in the area. Now, Monse’s produces pupusas for multiple school districts in Colorado, the Children’s Hospital, and even a movie theater!
When she decided to expand and open her first restaurant, Monse asked her kitchen’s landlord how they could expand. Her landlord agreed to sell her the 3,000 square foot building, and Monse was able to open the restaurant alongside her kitchen. So far, the restaurant has been a huge hit. (How could it not be when Monse had tasty, all-natural and organic traditional pupusas to share with the world?)
Monse was born and raised in El Salvador in a town called Chalchuapa (also the name of the plate on her menu that serves 2-3). When I asked her if she had dreamed of opening a restaurant in El Salvador, she replied that opportunities like that just aren’t available there. Her passion was for marketing and sales. While she was going to school for economics, she participated in an exchange program in Germany. It was there that she met and married her husband. They moved to Colorado Springs in 2011, and while her husband was deployed in the army, Monse worked in childcare. She soon realized, however, that she wanted to be her own boss and, at the same time, be a mom to her two children. She dreamed of using her skills as a saleswoman while sharing traditional food from her home. She started making pupusas with another Salvadorean woman but soon needed more help. Through word of mouth, women heard about the opportunity to make traditional pupusas and began working for Monse.
Today, Monse’s employs eight women, all from El Salvador, with the exception of one woman from Guatemala. When I visited the kitchen during my time with Monse, I was able to meet four of these ladies while they prepared their most recent wholesale order of black bean and cheese pupusas.
Monse really never thought her vision would have taken off like it has, and she’s amazed with all the support people in Colorado have given to her: “The United States is where dreams come true,” she told me, “and Colorado has been open and supportive of me this entire time.”
But don’t take my word for it, come to Monse’s Taste of El Salvador Pupusería and try some pupusas for yourself!
115 S. 25th St
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80904
Phone: (719) 473-0877
About the Author
Raisa grew up in Colorado Springs and attended Pepperdine University in Southern California. She has lived abroad in Argentina, Spain, and Russia and traveled to 15 countries. She finds the best way to experience a culture different from her own is by gathering together and sharing a meal. Follow her on her Instagram account @food_forward.