Every restaurant is home to some form of comfort food. Lorena Menjivar’s grilled pupusas are the perfect remedy for a particularly stressful day. I regret that I only ordered two of them at the Menjivars’ family-run business Las Delicias Salvadoran Restaurant. One was stuffed with beans and melted cheese, and a second with cheese and an edible flower called loroco. Nelson, Menjivar’s husband and Las Delicias’ co-owner, says that the loroco plant is an important crop in El Salvador that’s grown in poorer regions of the country. “Recently, it’s gaining in popularity,” he says. “Being able to export more of that plant is helping the economy.”
The flavor of loroco infuses the pupusa subtly, like an aromatic rather than a stronger herb such as cilantro. The Menjivars’ son, Nelson Allejandro, who translated this interview with his parents from Spanish, says he loves the garlic and cheese pupusa. It reminds him of garlic bread. Las Delicias is the second restaurant the Menjivars have opened. The first one, a Mexican restaurant, they took over in 2017 from an acquaintance in Vallejo.
“When we got there, there was already a set menu,” Nelson says. They didn’t feel like they could introduce any Salvadoran influences. “There were already a number of Salvadoran restaurants in the neighborhood, and we didn’t want to compete with them.” But the Vallejo restaurant did give them an opportunity to get their toes wet with learning how to run a business. “When we had the chance to start Las Delicias, we wanted to cook food that was more authentic to us,” he says. “That’s what we’re doing right now.” Lorena runs the kitchen with another chef named Lucy Ramirez. They both contribute recipes to the menu, which includes a solid mix of Salvadoran and Mexican dishes.
Las Delicias serves Mexican food for several reasons. Through their first restaurant, the Menjivars gained the experience of knowing how to prepare it. “We know that, especially in California, people love tacos and burritos,” Nelson says. “But we’re serving a Salvadoran-Mexican fusion—the food that we know best—that we can combine with typical Mexican dishes we know people love.” Customers might come in to order Mexican dishes, but the Menjivars hope they’ll also try Salvadoran dishes such as fried yucca; curtido, a lightly fermented cabbage relish; or the mojarra frita, a whole-fried tilapia fish plate.
Lorena now posts tantalizing videos of her dishes on the restaurant’s social-media accounts. She films cheese oozing out of pupusas on the grill and of someone chopping up cabbage. Sometimes she posts informative posts about Salvadoran menu items. One entry focuses on the morro horchata, “a typical drink of El Salvador… El Morro is a tree that produces round fruits.” Inside of that fruit, the seeds produce a “milk” that’s used to make the drink.
The Menjivars say that the main difference between Salvadoran and Mexican cuisines is that Mexican dishes tend to be spicier. “Mexico’s also a really large country when compared to El Salvador,” Nelson says. Because of its agricultural and regional diversity, Mexicans have access to more varieties of proteins and produce. “Our tamales are smaller than Mexican tamales, but we really focus on the quality of ours,” he says.
The downtown-Berkeley restaurant first opened last fall. “When we bought the place, it was during lockdown,” Nelson says. At the time, some restaurants were closing, including the one that they took over. “We thought it was a good time to go in,” he adds. At the time, it was difficult to start a new business. People weren’t eating out. But the Menjivars recruited the entire family to help out in order to mitigate the costs. Nelson believes that they’re still open today because they kept shorter hours and implemented online ordering, too. “Luckily, the neighborhood was really accepting of us,” he says.
Las Delicias Salvadoran Restaurant, 2037 Kala Bagai Way, Berkeley. Open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm. 510.833.2821. lasdeliciasbylorena.com