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Denver restaurant La Chiva elevates Colombian culture and cuisine

la chiva arepa.jpg
Posted at 11:03 AM, Feb 17, 2022

DENVER — Disney's animated film "Encanto" is nominated for two Academy Awards, and its song "We Don't Talk About Bruno" reached No. 1 on the Billboard Chart, but the movie's popularity is also shedding light on Colombian culture.

You're In Good Company this week with La Chiva, one of the only Denver restaurants making Colombia's famous 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, La Chiva owner and founder. "[Colombians] have arepas with anything, for every occasion and at any time. You can have them for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner."

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

A "chiva" is a bus traditionally used to travel over mountain passes in Colombia.

"They carry anything," Aguirre said. "They carry people, and they just went 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 that come here, and they have no clue what Colombian food is," Aguirre said.

"Our food is not spicy, so it's different than Mexican food. It's got a lot of flavor, but not the heat," he said.

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

"Picada is like, you pick different food," he said. "And it's a nice sampler platter. It's a big portion, and it's got almost everything that we make. So, they can taste a lot of different things."

They also make almost 200 arepas a day, mixing corn meal, butter, water and salt to hand make the dough.

"It's stuff that's come from the family," Aguirre said. "My mom always did 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 it is you want," Aguirre said.

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

"I have people coming in from Colorado Springs who travel all the way here because there's nothing there they can find," Aguirre said. "People come from the mountains just looking for us, from Boulder."

La Chiva is expanding 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 Spring 2022.

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