How a Food Truck Survived and Rebuilt in North Texas

As a child, Marko Ramirez always dreamed of having a food truck near the ocean. After studying culinary arts in Costa Rica, he returned to Puerto Rico, where, with the help of his father, he renovated an old FedEx truck and opened the first iteration of El Chifrijo in 2015.

The Puerto Rican restaurant embodies the strength and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community. Owned by husband-husband duo Marko and Allen Pursley-Ramirez of Farmers Branch, El Chifrijo offers dishes inspired by Marko’s time in Costa Rica while using Puerto Rican flavors and ingredients.

While it proved to be a hit in its native country, it was unfortunately abruptly discontinued in 2017, after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Three months after the hurricane, Marko left the truck behind and came to Dallas looking for work.

Photo: Austen Simien Young

“I had the opportunity to fly because the flights were very expensive and hardly anyone could get off the island,” says Marko. Local Profile. “I found a job a week after arriving in Dallas at the Farmers Market, and my plan was just to earn some money until everything was back in order to live on the island again. But when I came back to Puerto Rico, after a year here in Dallas, I tried to reopen the food truck, and things didn’t work out. The island was still in really bad shape at that time.

While working as an executive chef at a farmer’s market stand, Marko lived in a one-bedroom apartment with four other people. He met his business partner, an accountant named Jonathan March, around this time, who helped Marko resurrect his dream and helped him reopen El Chifrijo in Dallas.

The truck was brought to Florida by boat and Marko drove it to Dallas.

El Chifrijo reopened as a food truck in Dallas in early 2020, and while one would expect the COVID-19 pandemic to have forced it to close again, Marko and his business partner have in been able to stay afloat thanks to PPP loans. Around this time, Marko met Allen, the man who would become her husband.

“I had never eaten Puerto Rican food in my entire life,” Allen says. “After we dated for a while, he started cooking for me and I was hooked.”

Today, the couple run El Chifrijo together, serving Dallas-Fort Worth through a shadow kitchen, from where diners can order from different parts of town, as well as their food truck. The truck serves the Dallas Farmers’ Market, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, and the Perot Museum several times a month. They will serve at Kaboom Town in Addison on Sunday, July 3.

Some of El Chifrijo’s signature items include their tostones, which are chips made with slices of plantain that are fried, mashed, then fried again and served with papaya sauce ($5.75), as well as their empanadas that can be ordered with beef and sweet plantain with cheese or roasted vegetables ($8).

But perhaps their most popular item is their Chifrijo bowl, a spicy and savory dish featuring Puerto Rican rice, kidney beans, fried pork, lime pico de gallo and plantain chips ($16).

“There are so many flavors and colors in Puerto Rican cuisine,” says Marko. “And Dallas has a lot of Puerto Ricans here too. It’s inspiring to bring this cuisine to Puerto Ricans and give others the opportunity to try Puerto Rican cuisine.

Over the years, El Chifrijo has seen several reinventions. But despite obstacles like Hurricane Maria and the COVID-19 pandemic, El Chifrijo has always been able to bounce back and come out stronger than before.

Image courtesy of El Chifrijo.

Some of El Chifrijo’s most prominent supporters are from the LGBTQ+ community. But as they rallied together, the two said they built a diverse following of all types of people: gay, straight, young, old, black, white, and everyone in between.

After rebuilding themselves after tragedy, both Marko and Allen believe those lessons, along with the support of an eclectic group of clients, inspired them to persevere.

“We learned to go with the flow and think outside the box,” Allen says. “And being creative whenever these issues arise so that we can keep going, and not just stop when we hit a roadblock.”

To order at El Chifrijo’s ghost kitchen or to see their schedule of food truck stops, visit elchifrijo.com.

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