Thursday, November 14, 2013

Venezuelan Food Down at the End of the Strip


Viva Las Arepas
1616 South Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, CA 89104

I was really looking forward to our recent trip to Las Vegas. We had some great restaurants picked out, we had scheduled our naps almost everyday, and we had socked away some money so we could do some gambling, without breaking our bank accounts. The only part of the trip I was not looking forward to was where we were staying. We were arriving on a recent Tuesday, and all of the hotels on the strip were booked or had jacked up prices. I mean really, $200 to stay at Excalibur or we could get a room for $400 at Caesar's. That would seriously put a crimp in our food and gambling budget. So, I reluctantly checked farther down the strip, and found $39 rooms at the Stratosphere.

For the two of you reading this that have never been to Vegas, or have not ventured down the strip past Treasure Island, or TI as it is called now, the Stratosphere is the hotel with the 1,149 foot tall tower that offers stunning views of Las Vegas. It is also a hotel that is off by itself, so if you want to go to another hotel, you definitely have to drive to get there. I know this is a restaurant blog, but my small review of the Stratosphere would not be good. The location is no good, the casino action is awful, and the dining options are nothing to get excited about. If the other rooms in Vegas were not so expensive this particular week, we would have stayed somewhere else. One of the few bright spots that the Stratosphere's location afforded us was that we drove by Viva Las Arepas every time we came back from another part of the strip.

Viva Las Arepas caught Katie's eye immediately when we drove by. The only other time I have had arepas was when I was performing jury duty, and walked by Mil Jugos in downtown Santa Ana. I really enjoyed them a lot. I'm not sure when Katie has had them, but she was very excited to come here for lunch. We woke up at our usual vacation time of 11 AM and walked the quarter mile or so to the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Oakley.

This is the second incarnation of this restaurant. The first was a food stand known as I Heart Arepas, which was a block away, in the parking lot of Dino's Coffee Shop. That name was trademarked by someone else, hence they changed their name, and when a stand alone restaurant became available, they jumped on the opportunity to open a brick and mortar restaurant. The inside of the restaurant is very colorful, with lots of yellows and orange hues present. We arrived here around 11:30, and just beat the lunch rush. Viva Las Arepas draws a wide range of clientele, from business people to tourists looking to venture out of their comfort zone with something they can not experience where they are from. We stepped up to the counter, placed our order, and waited for our number to be called. This is how it all worked out for us.




Let's start off with Katie's lunch first. She had the Wood Fired Chicken Arepa ($4.00), and a Shredded Beef Empanada ($2.50). When I first saw this come out, I did not think it would be enough to satisfy Katie, but the arepas are very filling. An arepa can best be described as a pocket bread made out of cornmeal that is grilled to a crunchy outside, while the inside remains soft. It can be stuffed with either cold or hot meats, cheeses, sauces, and veggies. Her chicken arepa was served cold, with shredded chicken, onions, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and a white sauce that was more flavorful than mayo, and not as heavy. It reminded me of a very fresh tasting chicken salad sandwich, but with a nice cornmeal cake around it. Sorry I did not get a good shot of the inside of the empanada, as it was gone very quickly. This version had a slightly lighter dough than I am used to, and it was not as greasy. The inside was not stuffed with beef, but there was just the right amount for the almost three dollar price of this. The beef was flavored well, and pretty tender. Katie seemed pretty pleased with this plate, and did not feel overly stuffed with this lunch.




I could not decide between two kinds of arepas, so I just got both. I had the Roasted Pork Butt ($4.00) and the Reina Pepiada ($5.00) Arepa. Let's start with the pork one first. This was some pretty tender shredded pork. It came with tomato slices, which I took off, because I am not too fond of big slices of tomato. I also added cheese to this, which really kind of got lost here with the flavorful pork. The outside of the arepa was done well, with a nice crunch to the outside of it. My other arepa is the so called queen of arepas, and came with shredded chicken breast, avocado, mayo, and cilantro. This one was served cold, and reminded me again of a chicken salad sandwich, but with avocado added. Our food came with a squirt bottle of a green sauce, which resembled aji, but was a little more on the creamier side. It had a good flavor, but I thought it was going to be more spicy than it turned out to be.

I was pretty pleased with our lunch at Viva Las Arepas. These arepas were just as good as the ones that I had back at home during my jury service in Santa Ana. Even though these do not look like they could fill you up, they are deceptively filling. Viva Las Arepas also proves that you can still find good, cheap eats on the strip in Vegas, even if it is right next to the Stratosphere. The service while we were here was pretty good, and they were pretty vigilant about clearing tables after people left. For a second I was almost glad we stayed at Stratosphere, but only until we walked back into the hotel.

Out of five sashes, (because this is a Venezuelan restaurant, and Venezuela is one of the most successful countries when competing in beauty pageants, including the most recently held Miss Universe pageant, where Miss Venezuela won the top spot again), five being best to zero being worst, Viva Las Arepas gets 3 sashes.

For more information about Viva Las Arepas, go to their web site here: http://www.vivalasarepas.com/#!

Viva Las Arepas on Urbanspoon

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