“We want people to have the same home cooked meal that we’d have in our own house.”
There’s a small, indistinct white building – florescent orange window trimming, wooden picnic tables to one side and lavender benches out front – sandwiched between Highway 285 and West Hampden Avenue in Englewood. Chances are that if you’re in the area, you’re dropping off your car at one of the various body shops in the area, not looking for a bite to eat. But inside this family-owned business, you’ll find some of the most delicious Salvadoran food in Denver.
To be fair, I know the owners of Mile High Pupusas. I worked in the retail industry with Josh and Mirna Benavides years ago. But my bias card is in my back pocket on this one because their food is just that good. And it all starts with their homemade pupusas.
What’s a pupusa? Think gordita or arepa just without the mess of spilling ingredients falling to the plate with each frustrating bite. Just like the gordita and arepa, it is a stuffed corn-flour cake, only this round delight that’s grilled like a pancake holds on to its savory chicken, pork or cheese ingredients with effortless perfection. They’re also a staple food in most Salvadoran households dating back nearly 2,000 years to Central America’s exquisitely beautiful and smallest country, El Salvador.
“My mom showed me how to make them,” Mirna told me over the phone recently. “It took me a lot of time and effort to get it right and we’d spend hours of quality time working on it to make sure I got it right.”
For a recent pickup order at the restaurant, I went down a lengthy list of 14 options, struggling to pick which to try. I didn’t know whether to go traditional, smothered, hamburger or Hawaiian-style. In the end, I ordered like someone grocery shopping when hungry: two bean, mushroom and cheese, one spinach and cheese, one jalapeno, two regular bean and cheese, and two of their pork-bean-cheese combo called the “revuelta.”
“We follow my family’s recipe to an extent,” Mirna added, “but we now add a few more ingredients to make for a more flavorful pupusa.”
Josh and Mirna’s dream of owning a restaurant began back in 2018 out of necessity. Josh had broken his ankle and couldn’t work. At the same time, Mirna’s hours had also been cut to only two days a week. And, whatever money was coming in from Josh’s leave of absence wasn’t cutting it either.
“We needed extra money to help support our family,” Mirna said. “So, we started selling pupusas to family and friends from our garage on the weekends.”
“What started out as a side hustle to make ends meet, got bigger and bigger each weekend,” Josh added. “We had tables out front at first and then had to add a spot in the back yard for larger parties.”
“Our son Joshito told us that it was a sign from God,” Mirna said. “After a while, we had to find another location.”
After a few months of searching for the right place, they landed at their current location at 2504 W Hampden Avenue, opening Mile High Pupusas in December 2018. The couple’s retail jobs were soon behind them and they were on their own. They haven’t looked back since.
They’ve expanded their menu, too, in order to reflect a growing customer base and their love for providing fresh, made to order options like burritos, street tacos, tostadas and tamales.
What started out as a simple pupusa order for my wife and me, quickly escalated to a full-on feast of Asada fries, two smothered burritos generously filled with juicy chunks of chicken and carne asada, and a handful of chicken tamales to top things off.
Today, Josh and Mirna are doing what they can to get by. It’s a scary and uncertain time for small businesses and like many restaurant owners, they’re fighting the same uphill battle that many are facing in Denver and around the country. COVID-19 and a stay-at-home order have wreaked havoc on local businesses, especially those that rely on sit-in opportunities for patrons. Luckily for Mile High Pupusas, though, they’re faring better since they already depend heavily on in and out foot traffic for most of their orders.
“We are a small location with about 7 tables,” Mirna said. “So, for the most part, we are 95% take out already. But since the lockdown, sales have dropped off and affected our dinner rush since we’re used to a busy evening crowd.”
“We’ve definitely seen a dip in sales but we’re doing what we can to survive,” Josh said. “We’re obviously offering take out as usual and delivering through DoorDash and Grubhub, but we’ll also sign up with more delivery services like Postmates later this week.”
Those of us who live in Denver are fortunate to have a plethora of worldly cuisine options at our fingertips, and in times like these, we must rally behind the people making those dishes. They depend on the community, on people who have welcomed them with open arms while happily filling up on their food at the same time.
“That’s what drives us to deliver good authentic food,” Josh said. “It’s for the customer that comes to the restaurant two to three times a week. It makes us feel good to know that they choose to support our small business, so we put more love and fresher ingredients into our product. We want people to have the same home-cooked meal that we’d have in our own house.”
Order from Mile High Pupusas at DoorDash, Grubhub or by calling 303-927-6783.
Photos courtesy of Mile High Pupusas