OGDEN — It didn’t take much arm-twisting to get Luis Piñeda to pull up his roots in Southern California and move to Utah.
On learning from son-in-law Nestor Cornejo, who lives in the Ogden area, that a Salvadoran restaurant here was up for sale, the response was pretty much automatic.
“I thought, ‘This is the moment,’” said Piñeda, who grew up in El Salvador, helping out at a restaurant run by his mother. “When he told me, I left my job, I sorted things out in California and I came.”
In March 2017, Piñeda and wife Ena Miranda took over La Cabañita Salvadoreña, which first opened under different owners in 2015, and they haven’t looked back.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Miranda said.
Their locale — at 2182 Pingree Ave., just north of downtown Ogden — features pupusas (perhaps the most typical of Salvadoran fare), Salvadoran-style tamales and more, offering a taste of what the small Central American nation has to offer. But no — and Miranda gets this a lot — don’t expect tacos, enchiladas or tortilla chips. Those come from Mexico, and Salvadoran fare holds its own spot on the culinary map.
“Every day, people come asking for tacos, and (on learning the restaurant doesn’t offer them) they get up and leave. They ask for chips and salsa and we don’t have chips and salsa,” Miranda said.
Plenty more come looking for pupusas and other Salvadoran plates, and Piñeda and Miranda are able to satisfy that demand. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with any of a variety of fillings — cheese, pork, beans, zucchini, chicken and more. They’re topped with curtido, a mix of cabbage, carrots and spices that’s vaguely reminiscent of coleslaw, and a red, tomato-based salsa.
“The pupusa is something you have all day, morning and night,” said Cornejo.
Other dishes include Salvadoran tamales, wrapped in green banana leaves, not corn husks, as in Mexico; and pasteles, empanada-like turnovers filled with potatoes, carrots and chicken. La Cabañita Salvadoreña offers heavier, meatier plates more popular among customers with ties to El Salvador and Latin America, and a range of drinks typical to the Central American nation, including a distinctive fruit salad juice with chunks of fruit in it.
Generally, Salvadoran food isn’t as spicy as Mexican food, although to cater to the tastes of customers with roots in Mexico, La Cabañita Salvadoreña offers hot sauce.
On the dessert menu are empanadas, variously filled with a sweet, milky pudding or plantains and refried beans, which make for a sweet and salty combination.
Costa del Sol in Ogden, mainly a Mexican restaurant, also offers pupusas. But no other eatery in the area focuses exclusively on Salvadoran fare like La Cabañita Salvadoreña — or offers such a variety of food from the country.
It’s enough to make Oscar Gamez, a Salvadoran transplant who was dining recently at La Cabañita Salvadoreña, travel periodically from his home in Brigham City to Ogden to get his fill of Salvadoran food. “When it opened, I almost fainted,” Gamez said.
Piñeda and Miranda aren’t necessarily looking for that response — they’re just happy to be able to cook and make a living at it. Piñeda worked in carpentry in California while his wife was a housekeeper. The high cost of doing business in the Los Angeles area, where they lived, plus the saturated Salvadoran food market there, kept them from opening their own locale.
Now in Ogden, they’re able to find their niche.
“This was always a dream,” Piñeda said.