El Salvador In Your Backyard

Photos by Gigi Toledo

Eating locally has increased in popularity over the years. According to the National Restaurant Association, 68 percent of consumers would rather eat at a restaurant that is locally owned. There are foodies all over the Midwest looking for the next best place to eat, and it looks like Des Moines residents have found a tasteful new spot right in their backyard.

La Cuscatleca: Restaurant and Pupuseria began offering food back in 2012. Marcial and Miriam Leiva began selling their pupusas, which are a traditional Salvadorian dish with thick corn tortillas stuffed with delicious filling like chopped pork, cheese, beans, zucchini, and other vegetables, at soccer fields. Their success prompted them to open a food truck where they started selling a wider variety of food.  After five years they have encountered amazing success through their commitment to making great Salvadorian food.

“We had the food truck, but the people wanted more so we decided to open up the restaurant,” manager Melissa Mancilla says. “The food truck was always getting super full so we had to grow.  At the beginning we only had pupusas, but we were led to make different foods.” Thanks to this family-owned restaurant’s growing popularity, the owners have been able to revamp their menu and offer more varieties of Latino food like carne asada, shrimp, and fried fish along with their famous Pupusas.

Carne Asada, 2 Pupusas de Frijol con queso, curtido y salsa

Drake University’s La Fuerza Latina (LFL) is a student Latinx organization that hosts networking events, attends conferences, showcases films that represent Latino culture, and visits schools around the Des Moines metro to speak to Latino youths. La Cuscatleca’s growing success drew the organization to have its food truck at a recent fundraising event. This event drew more than 100 people and raised over $500, which was an overall success in the eyes of LFL members. LFL members were excited and proud to have La Cuscatleca’s food on their campus. “Oh everyone loved it—the truck nearly sold out of the ingredients that they brought,” Treasurer Jose Garcia-Fuerte says. “People even kept coming back for seconds.”

La Cuscatleca’s interior design represents their culture, but also other people’s cultures as well. “They know they are coming to eat Salvadorian food, but there are a lot of things that may also remind them of their home countries.” Mancilla says. They strive to provide their customers with wonderful food that reminds them of home and keeps them wanting to come back.

La Cuscatleca’s food has attracted a diverse fanbase that goes beyond Salvadorans. “We do serve a lot of people from El Salvador but we also have a consumer base that goes beyond our culture,” Mancilla says. “Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and Americans—they all come here and eat our food.”

La Cuscatleca is proud to serve Des Moines with its memorable food. Like Mancilla says, “You know local is always better! And if you have local that you like, you’re not going to go anywhere else.”

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