National Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off September 15 and, thanks to the work by the newly formed Hispanic Restaurant Association (HRA), coincides with Colorado’s very first Hispanic Restaurant Week.

Governor Polis’ office approved the initiative September 13, clearing the way for the event that will take place September 22 to October 3 and making Colorado the first-ever state to recognize a restaurant week dedicated to Latin American cuisine.

After a chance encounter at a networking event, Selene Nestor and John Jaramillo began chatting about the local Hispanic restaurateur community—which led to the establishment of the HRA in February 2021. “We instantly clicked,” Nestor says, and decided to work to “advocate for the Hispanic restaurateurs, to open their businesses efficiently and effectively.”

Since then, the HRA has grown to include 300 members, including food truck and restaurant owners, chefs, and entrepreneurs. The organization promotes small restaurants throughout the state while also advocating for their needs and helping restaurateurs navigate contract negotiations, menu building, food costs, liquor licensing, vendor and supplier facilitators, translation services, translating, and more.

Chefs compete at the Hispanic Restaurant Association’s Top Chef event in 2021. Photo courtesy of the Hispanic Restaurant Association

“We saw a huge need,” Nestor says. “We wanted to be able to create something where people actually could go to and get resources. There are a lot of resources out there for minority-owned businesses that people don’t really know about, so we wanted to be that association, that hub. We wanted to let people have access to all the help that is out there. We wanted to kind of be a good sort of resource for them.”

With statewide approval secured, the HRA is now working with Senator Michael Bennet’s office to have Hispanic Restaurant Week recognized nationally by the federal government.

“Our vision statement is to educate and elevate the Hispanic community across a multi generational spectrum,” Jaramillo says. “[We want to] recognize the contributions that Hispanic community chefs, and all the way down to the dish washers, bring from their cuisine to the market. Everybody loves Mexican food, at least everybody I know. … I thought Hispanic Restaurant Week during Hispanic Heritage Month would raise the profile and the contributions of the Hispanic restaurateur and entrepreneur, basically to encourage the general public to visit during this particular timeframe.”

Here are all the events the HRA is hosting throughout Hispanic Heritage Month.

1. Hispanic Restaurant Week

While there isn’t a list of participating eateries and/or menus like traditional restaurant weeks, the event is designed to encourage resident foodies to dine at local eateries and food trucks owned by individuals of Latin American descent. Diners are encouraged to post photos to social media and tag their restaurant of choice and the HRA at @hra_national.

“We all know that Colorado has a Restaurant Week,” Nestor says. “We wanted to pay homage to those Hispanic restaurateurs … We figured this would be a great opportunity for us to actually bring awareness to those restaurants that a lot of people don’t know about. I mean, we all hear about the big chains that are very popular, but we want to bring people into the mom-and-pop shops that are not as popular, but they’re just amazing. And we want to elevate them and give them a platform to be able to get more people in the door.” September 22–October 3.

Chefs compete at the Hispanic Restaurant Association's Top Chef event in 2021. Photo courtesy of the Hispanic Restaurant Association
Chefs compete at the Hispanic Restaurant Association’s Top Chef event in 2021. Photo courtesy of the Hispanic Restaurant Association

2. Food Truck Festival

When celebrating restaurants, you can’t overlook the ones on wheels. Kicking off the first day of Hispanic Restaurant Week is the Food Truck Festival featuring local mobile eateries: Luchador, Mi Rey Social, Tulas Tapas, Bits and Pieces Con Cerveza, Cilantro and Perejil, and the Road Runner. September 22, 5–8 p.m. at 6200 South Syracuse Way in Greenwood Village.

3. Hispanic Top Chef

The second annual Hispanic Top Chef competition brings six chefs from around the U.S. to Denver for a day of tapas, tastings, and titles. It’s the tastiest way to close out Hispanic Heritage Month.

You’ll find some famous names on the panel of judges, including Pablo Aya, the former executive chef of Masterchef Mexico; James Beard Award nominees Manny Barella and Dana Rodriguez; and Masterchef Mexico judge Betty Vazquez. Along with the competition, the event offers tastings of food, wine, mezcal, and tequila. Tickets are $65, though VIP tickets are available for $125 and include a meet-and-greet (or should we say meet-and-eat?) with some of the competing chefs. October 15, 11:30 a.m.–5 p.m. at 4817 National Western Drive.

Read: Are Chefs of Latin American Descent Getting the Recognition They Deserve?