Mofongo Mania! El Encanto Brings Traditional Puerto Rican Flavors to the Merrimack Valley
If you walk down Common Street in Lawrence these days, you might find yourself being led by your nose to El Encanto, the city’s newest pop-up restaurant and the second participant in its Revolving Test Kitchen (RTK) program.
Launched in 2016 as an incubator for culinary entrepreneurs, the RTK program saw its first graduate, Ray Gonzalez, relocate CocoRay’s to a permanent Parker Street location in February. While in the RTK program, the taqueria proved wildly popular with the students, staff and faculty at the adjoining Northern Essex Community College.
Following in the foodsteps of CocoRay’s success will not be easy, but the father-son team of Hilton and Danny Torres is ready for the challenge. And they aren’t the only ones excited about the prospects. Before El Encanto opened in March, I spoke with Derek Mitchell, executive director of the Lawrence Partnership, and he was already brimming with excitement over the “flavor and authenticity” of Torres’ traditional Puerto Rican entrees. Since then, word about El Encanto’s signature plantain bowls, roasted pork subs and grilled skewers has spread.
Owner Danny Torres ran a food truck at the beginning of his life in the culinary business. He quickly realized that he needed to hone his business sense if he was going to be successful, so he reached out to Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera to discuss financial and business assistance, and learned from Rivera about the Revolving Test Kitchen. One aspect of the RTK that appealed to Torres was the mentoring offered by Salvatore Lupoli, CEO and founder of the Lupoli Companies and a member of the leadership council of the Lawrence Partnership, which oversees the RTK program.
For Danny and Hilton Torres, this opportunity represents a lifelong aspiration. “We have always had the dream of opening a restaurant,” Danny Torres says. “In Puerto Rico, my family had a restaurant and my father was the chef. … He was about to go back to Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria destroyed everything. The business was almost gone. That’s when he decided we have to keep moving forward with our plans for the restaurant. That’s how we decided to keep the restaurant as a family.”
Since its opening, the grilled chicken skewers have been one of El Encanto’s most popular menu items. Another favorite has been the hearty chuleta cancan, a bone-in pork chop served with mofongo, a savory side dish made with fried plantains, pork rinds, garlic and butter.
On Saturdays, El Encanto features oven-roasted pig served with the restaurant’s homemade barbecue sauce.
Locals are buzzing with support for the El Encanto’s cultural cuisine. “I’ve gotten lots of feedback from people I’ve never met congratulating me and thanking me for having this type of restaurant in Lawrence,” Torres says. His infectious enthusiasm is clear as El Encanto sets out to find a place in the heart, and stomach, of Lawrence.