Thirty years ago, El Salvador native Mauricio Meldrano opened Fama Hair Salon on Gayley Avenue, which is still open for business today.
Just last month, Meldrano and his family opened Dina’s Cafe on the same street in honor of his late wife, Dina, who died five years ago.
Meldrano said the family-owned and operated restaurant’s menu draws on Dina’s principal recipes to bring authentic Salvadoran cuisine to Westwood, and pays tribute to her memory and love for cooking.
One such recipe, called “pan con chumpe,” is a traditional Salvadoran turkey sandwich that Meldrano said has long been a holiday staple in their household. The key ingredient in this dish is an herb called watercress, he said, which helps maintain the meat’s juice and flavor but is seldom used in typical American-style turkey dishes.
The eatery also serves on-the-go food options, said Aaron Wilson, Meldrano’s son-in-law and general manager of Dina’s Cafe. The empanada, a particularly portable snack, is offered in seven varieties including two vegetarian options.
“(Students) can eat (the empanada) in class and not make a mess,” Wilson said. “They can eat it while walking down the street.”
Fourth-year engineering student Alan Tokashiki purchased an empanada, which costs only a dollar on Mondays and Wednesdays. He said it’s a relatively affordable alternative to pricier Westwood eateries and added that empanadas are hard to find in Westwood.
Wilson said Dina’s Cafe also offers smoothies that contain tropical fruits rarely seen in drier American climates. The mora berry smoothie contains a species of blackberry native to Central America and slightly tarter than the typical American blackberry.
Having eaten Salvadoran food his whole life, Meldrano’s son and co-owner Emmett Meldrano said he and his family have created an honest dining experience that incorporates time-honored recipes. He said this homegrown dynamic helps Dina’s Cafe stand out in the competitive Westwood marketplace.
“There’s a lot of places around here, a lot of eateries in Westwood, so to be unique we have to have something that only a few people know – not the whole world,” Emmett said. “We like to bring that taste to UCLA.”