Author: Carol

The Restaurant That Changed the World

The Restaurant That Changed the World

How a Salvadoran market became the soul of a community — and now fights to survive

A couple of years ago, Luis Fernando Rivera was sitting down to a plate of quesadillas, the typical dish of his country. A large group of friends was waiting. So, he put a pot of beans, a hunk of cheese, and a big pile of flour on the stove, a trick for making things like pinto beans and tortillas.

The friends turned to one another and said: “OK, what else should we make for dinner?”

Rivera did, of course, say that he was going to make quesadillas. “But,” he added, “maybe something with a different flavor.”

The people he was referring to were all part of a neighborhood restaurant in El Salvador that people call Las Cabañas.

Located on the banks of a small stream known as El Camino, in a small community east of the city of San Salvador, they serve up an eclectic menu of traditional Salvadoran food, from the traditional to the exotic. In addition, the restaurant often serves traditional and modern foods and drinks, like hot chocolate.

When I sat down to eat with Rivera and his friends last week, they explained the concept of their restaurant: They serve Salvadoran traditional and regional dishes, mostly food from the neighboring regions of El Salvador. But, because the majority of the people in the community are refugees, they also serve what Rivera called “food from the other side of the world.” It’s like what you would find in a Salvadoran market, located in the middle of the community. For those in the restaurant, it’s not just food; it’s the sense of community.

It’s what led Rivera to found this restaurant, which he called La Cabaña, which means “the cabin” in Spanish.

A few years ago, the restaurant was empty.

Rivera ran a hardware store while he was in high school in San Salvador. In 2002, when he was 23, he joined the military. He went to the United States after the war. He did his military service in California and served in Iraq. Then, in 2007, he landed in El Salvador. He was going back to teach, but when asked, “What are you going to do there?” he told a friend that, after a stint in

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