Olla Café and Bar: A Passionate Chef Living his Dream in Stafford, Virginia

by Charlottesville29

Nothing to see here. Just Juaquin living the American Dream.

I love finding places like this when traveling for kids’ sports. Food has been Juaquin Alfaro’s passion for all his life. After growing up in Costa Rica and El Salvador, he spent five years training in Spain, before coming to the United States. Here in the U.S., he cooked for Marriott hotels for fourteen years, dreaming of one day opening his own place.

Olla Café & Bar opened March 2, 2020. Then the world changed. But, that didn’t stop Alfaro. Three years later, Olla is thriving. Tucked into a storefront in a strip mall in Stafford, Virginia, Olla has become part of the community. Families pile in after church. Men sit at the bar for tequila and a snack. And, groups of friends laugh around bowls of chips and made-to-order guacamole.

For the Stafford community, the hospitality of Alfaro’s cheerful staff must be a big part of the appeal. “I love working for Juaquin,” my server said. “Whenever I go back in the kitchen, he asks me if I am doing okay.”

But, the biggest reason must be the food of a man who has been cooking for nearly all his life. Alfaro’s menu draws on both his Central American roots and his time in Spain. Handmade pupusas, empanadas, and his mother’s pozole are alongside Spanish classics like gambas al ajillo, chorizo, and Alhambra Cerveza. I couldn’t resist the shrimp quesadilla, a personal favorite ever since I enjoyed them daily decades ago in Zihuatenejo. Delicious. Made with love.

Though full, I had to try Alfaro’s pupusas, as I didn’t know when life would next bring me to Stafford. I am glad I did. The pupusa de queso con loroco rivals any I have ever had.

Among the many reasons for Alfaro’s success, the Costa Rican native credits most the country where he is achieving it. “There is no place in the world where you can have more hope than America,” said Alfaro. “If you want to dream big, you have to work hard, but if you do that, you can live the American Dream.”

Two hallmarks of restaurateurs who live that dream are love and passion. Another? Gratitude. All three are unmistakable with Alfaro. Just look at his post celebrating Olla’s three year anniversary this year. Here’s to many more.