- I Heart Arepas
- 1516 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 366-9696.
- Daily, 11 a.m.-midnight.
It seems nearly every culture has its rendition of a sandwich—some combination of meaty filling inside a starchy wrapper and easily devoured using two hands. The Venezuelan version is called an arepa and, until recently, you were hard pressed to find one in the Valley.
Enter I Heart Arepas, a tiny kiosk of a restaurant located in the Dino’s parking lot with a handful of outdoor tables and stools. Manned by owner Felix Arellano (formerly a cook at Valentino), the three-month-old eatery serves a brief menu of piping hot arepas and empanadas, both under $5 and made of cornmeal masa that’s grilled or fried to a delicate crisp.
If you’re new to arepas, start with the rich pernil, or roasted pork, a mess of meat that comes drizzled with tangy avocado mayo. Then sample Arellano’s cod, cooked with onions, peppers, olives and capers and served cold, delivering a deep zing of flavor between the warm, dense bread. You could add a garlicky shrimp or the popular beef arepa, but two are plenty, though you’ll likely be tempted to try more.
Instead, pick an empanada, like the gooey cheese and black bean, or order the hallacas—Venezuelan tamales typically served around Christmas. For his, Arellano marinates beef, chicken and pork in rum and then cooks them with raisins, parsley, capers and bell peppers.
Someday, the chef says, he wants to bring a traditional arepera to Vegas, with a counter offering 80 flavors of hot arepas and dozens more cold ones. For now, though, we’re lucky to have his yellow kiosk and his careful preparation of traditional Venezuelan treats.