Mesa Pizza owners to open Salvadoran restaurant Mesa 503 in Iowa City

Mesa Pizza owners Yolanda Amaya and Luis Hernandez are opening a restaurant serving food from their home country of El Salvador next month. Mesa 503 will serve authentic Salvadoran breakfast, lunch, and dinner options.


Isabella Cervantes

Luis Hernandez and Yolanda Amaya, owners of the new Salvadoran restaurant, pose for a portrait in their soon-to-be-opened restaurant on Monday, April 18, 2022.

Sam Knupp, News Reporter

The owners of Mesa Pizza are opening a new Salvadoran restaurant in Iowa City next month.

Mesa 503 is set to open in early May on Muscatine Avenue.

Yolanda Amaya, co-owner of Mesa 503, told The Daily Iowan through a translator that she’s confident people will be hooked after the first taste, and she specifically looks forward to customers getting to try the restaurant’s pupusas.

Pupusas are thick griddle cakes made of a tortilla with melted cheese, along with the customer’s choice of cheese, beans, or meat, accompanied by a variety of vegetable options.

She said owning Mesa Pizza should help bring more people to the new restaurant because of the name recognition.

On top of pupusas, Mesa 503 will serve a variety of Salvadoran dishes, including breakfast options.

Luis Hernandez, co-owner of Mesa 503 and Amaya’s husband, said the decision to open the business came from wanting to familiarize people in Iowa City with authentic food from his family’s home country of El Salvador.

Hernandez and Amaya immigrated from El Salvador in 1993 and have made trips back home almost every year since. He said when they visit El Salvador, they always look forward to the food.

“It’s hard to get away from our home flavor,” he said, “She [Amaya] has been cooking for 20 years, I’ve been cooking for 25 years, so we have plenty of experience.”

The couple has been keeping track of the recipes with plans to open a Salvadoran restaurant for years, Hernandez said.

The two originally worked in Massachusetts when they immigrated, then moved to Wisconsin. There, Hernandez was a part-owner of a business before losing his stake, which he said gave him the courage to start Mesa Pizza.

Hernandez said he would like to offer both dine-in and takeout. The restaurant can seat 16 people, but because of the smaller dine-in space, it will not serve alcohol, though the owners originally wanted to.

Hernandez said he and Amaya would like to, one day, open a larger location in the Iowa City downtown area with more seating capacity, allowing them to sell both food and drinks.

While Hernandez was unsure about the exact opening date, he said he hopes to open by May 5, depending on the inspections and the building process.

Hernandez said he isn’t worried about the inspections, as he and Amaya have gained a good reputation for keeping things up to code with Mesa Pizza.

When finished, the restaurant will be decorated with Salvadoran paintings and maps, he said.

Mesa 503 has not started hiring for the restaurant quite yet, Hernandez said, but he is confident they will be able to bring people in to work when the time comes.

“It’s hard to get people,” he said, “And to get good people, it’s even worse. But I think we’ve been lucky that we have a lot of support, I guess because of the way we do things.”

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