When Ana “Anita” Rodas opened her restaurant, Anita’s Cuisine, just two years ago, she expected ‘Taco Tuesday’ to be the big draw. But as more locals have shown an interest in exploring international cuisine around Kansas City, her Salvadoran dishes have started to rise in popularity.
We sat down with Anita’s daughter, Steffanie, to learn more about Anita’s story and her journey to opening the restaurant.
Tell me about your family, and your mom’s childhood in El Salvador.
My mom grew up in El Salvador and moved to Los Angeles about 35 years ago, and then my family moved to Kansas City in 2006. My parents just celebrated their 32nd year anniversary, and they have a really weird but cute love story. They met in El Salvador, and they were friends for many years. After a few years, they started dating. At that time, it was during the civil war and a lot of people do not know how the civil war affected the community. It got to the point that, for my dad’s safety, my grandmother urged my dad to leave the country. He was the youngest of his five brothers and sisters, so they saved the little bit of money that they had, and they pushed him to come to this country. He doesn’t share the full details, because it’s not an easy ride to make it to this country.
My dad had told my mom that even though he had to come to the US, if she would wait for him, they could be together. But my mom has always taught me, as a woman, you have to be strong–never depend on a guy, do things for yourself, push forward, education is important, and always, always, always, keep pushing. So she told him, ‘yeah, I’m not going to wait too long.’ When she got the opportunity to come to the United States, she never told him because she didn’t want him to think that it was for him. She also had dreams and plans and goals for her future, as well.
One day my dad was at a laundromat in Los Angeles, and this lady just happened to mention she was from his town in El Salvador. He was like, ‘you don’t know an Ana, do you?’ And she was like, ‘yes, I know her and her family.’ He was like, ‘that’s my girlfriend.’ She was like, ‘you know she’s here, right?’ He managed to get the phone number for my aunt’s apartment, and the rest is history.
After just meeting her once, I could tell your mom has so much passion for her food. When did she start to get serious about cooking?
My mother has suffered a lot, so I think at times she never thought she’d have the opportunity to open a restaurant. When she was pregnant with my brother, she had a very difficult pregnancy and so they told her that she had to be on bedrest. She didn’t want to just sit at home, so she would cook. I’d come home from school, and next thing you know, there would be five, ten neighbors picking up their dinner. And that’s just what she did just to pay her bills throughout her pregnancy.
In 2015, she came to me and told me about an opportunity for us to open a restaurant. And it’s been really nice to not only be there to cheer for her, but to be able to push forward with her and see how far we’ve been able to come.
So for people that have never had food from El Salvador before or don’t really know much about it, can you kind of describe the cuisine a little bit?
The way I differentiate between Mexican food and Salvadoran food is Mexicans use peppers and a lot of their food is very spicy with peppers, and we use spices like cumin or sesame seeds to add flavor. The most popular dish in El Salvador is the pupusa. It’s like a handmade tortilla, but while it’s still fresh, we stuff it with different ingredients like pork, or beans, and cheese.
In El Salvador, there is an edible plant called loroco, which is very similar to squash. A lot of vegetarians like loroco in their pupusas. I love eating pupusas with the green salsa, which isn’t typical, but I grew up in LA, so I like a little bit of spicy.
If you had someone coming to the restaurant for the first time, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Our goal has always been, that the moment you walk into the restaurant, you feel welcome. We really hope that you enjoy the food, and we would love to have you be a part of our family and come back again. My mom has always been the type to say, ‘this is your home.’ Even though it’s small and cozy, we hope for you to feel at home and to feel the love when you eat the food.
Address: 5816 Merriam Dr, Merriam, KS 66203
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To hear more of Steffanie and Anita’s story, check out Episode Five of the Open Belly podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.