Denver restaurant La Chiva elevates Colombian culture and cuisine

DENVER — Disney’s animated film “Encanto” is nominated for two Oscars, and its song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Chart, but the film’s popularity also shines a light on culture. Colombian.

You’re in good company this week with Chivaone of the only restaurants in Denver to do the famous Colombian cuisine.

If you’ve seen “Encanto,” the characters are often seen eating arepas, a Colombian staple.

“What bread is to Italians, arepas are to Colombians,” said Jorge Aguirre, owner and founder of La Chiva. “[Colombians] have arepas with anything, for every occasion and at any time. You can have them for breakfast, lunch, dinner.”

Aguirre originally opened La Chiva as a food truck in 2014.

A “chiva” is a bus traditionally used to cross mountain passes in Colombia.

“They carry anything,” Aguirre said. “They carry people, and they just go from town to town. Now they’re party buses.”

La Chiva’s brick-and-mortar location at 1446 S. Broadway in Denver now serves as an introduction to Colombian cuisine.

“We get a lot of people coming here, and they have no idea what Colombian food is,” Aguirre said.

“Our food isn’t spicy, so it’s different from Mexican food. It has a lot of flavor, but no heat,” he said.

Their empanadas are still their most popular menu item. But many others have meats, fruits, and side dishes that are more common in the culture. And Aguirre is happy to make recommendations.

“Picada is like choosing different foods,” he said. “And it’s a nice sampler platter. It’s a big portion, and it’s got almost everything we do. So they can taste a lot of different things.”

They also make nearly 200 arepas a day, mixing cornmeal, butter, water and salt to make the dough by hand.

“It’s family stuff,” Aguirre said. “My mom always made arepas. She made them for us.”

Arepas are topped with cheese or stuffed with other ingredients like a sandwich.

“We stuff it with a different meat, with avocado, beef, whatever you want,” Aguirre said.

It’s an experience to keep you coming back for more.

“I have people coming in from Colorado Springs and traveling all the way here because they can’t find anything there,” Aguirre said. “People come from the mountains just to look for us, from Boulder.”

La Chiva expands the menu of everything Colorado has to offer. Aguirre’s next plan is to open a bakery across the street, and he hopes to open in the spring of 2022.

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