The owners of Arepa Bite may have claimed a repurposed fast-food building for their new venture, but the food they are serving is fast only in the sense that you can grab lunch and be out in under 20 minutes – or even less time if you’re a quick eater. This food is carefully prepared Venezuelan home cooking made from scratch.
At this humble spot just off of County Highway 10 in Mounds View, arepas are the main attraction, as the restaurant’s name suggests. A staple food in Venezuela, arepas are made with just three ingredients: white corn meal, water, and salt (so they’re gluten-free in addition to delicious). The discs of grilled dough are split in half, like pita bread, and stuffed with savory fillings.
Arepas somehow manage to be both tender and toothsome. They’re like the best kind of home-baked breads, humble and comforting. And they provide the perfect backdrop for the fillings, which are the star performers to the arepa’s supporting player.
During a recent lunch hour, a group of friends came in, stood in line for a minute looking over the menu, and decamped across the parking lot to the adjacent Taco Bell. What a mistake. Vannessa Fazio, one of the restaurant’s owners, who was working the counter that day, enthusiastically and thoroughly described the menu to first-time customers, guiding them through the unfamiliar items and making recommendations.
Her favorite arepa is the pabellon, filled with shredded beef, black beans, cheese, and plantains. It’s the type of meal you think about long after you’ve eaten it – no small praise for a simple sandwich. The aromatic allure of the beef and the earthiness of the beans combined with the slightly sweet plantains and a hit of creamy richness from the cheese make for a perfect combination of tastes and textures.
If you want to start with something a bit less exotic, the catira, with shredded chicken and cheddar cheese, is a good option, as is the llanera, with grilled beef, avocado, and cheese. You can create a custom arepa from a long list of filling options. There's even a breakfast version with eggs and vegetables.
The menu offers other Venezuelan specialties as well. Fazio explains that the ham bread, a sandwich wrapped in a slightly sweet dough that typically contains ham, cheese, olives, and raisins, is a specialty served around Christmas in Venezuela; lucky customers at Arepa Bite can order it year round. She recommends it to diners who want something a bit more familiar than the arepas.
Tequenos, best described as a much more interesting version of mozzarella sticks, can be had filled with cheese, cheese and guava, or cheese and chocolate. The cheese and chocolate combo might sound odd, but proves to be a dynamic duo. The restaurant also offers parillas, grilled beef or chicken, as well as empanadas, hefty fried hand pies stuffed with a choice of cheese, ham and cheese, shredded beef, or chicken. Deep-fried yuca is a tasty stand-in for fries.
All of the arepas are priced under $7, making for a very affordable lunch; the most expensive items are the beef parillas at $11.97. Beverages are of the non-alcoholic variety, with the usual fountain drinks augmented by a selection of fresh juices.
The decor at Arepa Bite is simple but cheery. Walls are painted bright red, and striped lighting fixtures add additional pops of color. Seating is utilitarian, but a step up in comfort from your standard fast-food restaurant.
When asked why she and her business partners (her husband and two other couples, all from Venezuela) decided to plant their restaurant in Mounds View, Fazio explains they live nearby, so when the space, formerly occupied by Louisiana Poboy, opened up, it just made sense. The rest of the Twin Cities can only hope that the group has plans to open more Arepa Bite outposts around town.
2213 County Highway 10, Mounds View
Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sunday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.