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 revamped an old FedEx truck and opened the first iteration of El Chifrijo in 2015.
The Puerto Rican eatery embodies the strength and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community. Owned by Farmers Branch-based husband-husband duo Marko and Allen Pursley-Ramirez, El Chifrijo brings dishes inspired by Marko’s time in Costa Rica while utilizing Puerto Rican flavors and ingredients.
While it proved to be a success in his homeland, it was unfortunately brought to an abrupt halt in 2017, after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Three months after the hurricane, Marko left the truck behind and came to Dallas in search of work.
“I got the opportunity to fly out because flights were really expensive and hardly anybody could get out of the island,” Marko tells Local Profile. “I got a job a week after I got to Dallas, at the Farmers Market, and my plan was to just make money until everything was back in order to live again on the island. But when I came back to Puerto Rico, after a year of being here in Dallas, I tried to reopen the food truck, and things didn’t work. The island was still really in a bad position at that time.”
While working as the executive chef at a booth in the Farmers Market, Marko was living in a one-bedroom apartment with four other people. He met his business partner, an accountant named Jonathan March, during this time, who helped Marko resurrect his dream and helped him reopen El Chifrijo in Dallas.
The truck was brought over to Florida via boat, and Marko drove it to Dallas.
El Chifrijo reopened as a food truck in Dallas in early 2020, and while one would expect that the COVID-19 pandemic may have forced it to close once again, Marko and his business partner were actually able to stay afloat thanks to PPP loans. Around this time, Marko met Allen, the man who would become his husband.
“I had never had Puerto Rican cuisine in my entire life,” Allen says. “After we dated for a while, he started cooking for me, and I was hooked.”
Today, the pair run El Chifrijo together, servicing Dallas-Fort Worth by way of a ghost kitchen, from where diners can order from various parts of the city, as well as their food truck. The truck serves Dallas Farmers Market, The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, and The Perot Museum several times a month. They will be serving 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, smashed, then fried again and served with a side of papaya sauce ($5.75), as well as their empanadas that can be ordered with beef and sweet plantain with cheese or with roasted vegetables ($8).
But perhaps their most popular item is their Chifrijo bowl, a spicy, flavorful dish comprise of Puerto Rican rice, red beans, fried pork, lime pico de gallo and plantain chips ($16).
“There’s are so many flavors and colors in Puerto Rican cuisine,” Marko says. “And Dallas has a lot of Puerto Rican people here too. It’s inspiring to bring this cuisine to Puerto Ricans, and give the opportunity to other people to try Puerto Rican cuisine.”
Over the years, El Chifrijo has gone through several reinventions. But despite hindrances like Hurricane Maria and the COVID-19 pandemic, El Chifrijo has always been able to bounce back and emerge stronger than before.
Some of El Chifrijo’s most prominent supporters come from the LGBTQ+ community. But as they’ve mobilized, the two said they’ve built a diverse customer base comprised of all types of people: gay, straight, young, old, Black, white and everyone in between.
Having rebuilt from tragedy, Marko and Allen both believe that these lessons, along with support from an eclectic bunch of customers, have inspired them to persevere.
“We’ve learned to go with the flow and to think outside of the box,” Allen says. “And to be creative whenever these issues come up so that we can keep going, and not just stop when we encounter a roadblock.”
To order from El Chifrijo’s ghost kitchen or to see a schedule of their food truck stops, visit elchifrijo.com.