- Alex Springer
If you've ever had the privilege of sitting down to an overstuffed arepa or a plate piled high with shredded beef and fried plantains, you'll know that Venezuelan food doesn't pull any punches when it comes to excess. My experiences with this South American cuisine have been almost exclusively positive—it's hard not to love a menu that tries to stuff as much meat, cheese and fried corn cakes as it can onto one plate. With these fond memories still quite fresh in my mind, I've been excited to visit Venezuela Mia (9460 S. Union Square, Ste. 104, 801-831-6420, vzlamia.com) since it opened in early April. After a transformative experience with my very first cachapa and a menu that holds up quite well to repeat visits, it's safe to say that Venezuelan cuisine in Utah continues to deliver the goods.
Pulling into the Union Square commercial district made me acutely aware of how long I'd been avoiding public places. I've spent a lot of time in this area pre-pandemic—build a cheap movie theater and a Nicklecade and I will come—but the local restaurant scene in this zone seems to have exploded. Though my visit was all about Venezuela Mia, there are like five new-to-me local restaurants and bakeries just hanging out in Union Square. Don't worry, dear reader. I will explore them all and report. But first, let's talk cachapas.
Venezuela Mia has a wide range of this traditional staple, but its basic construction involves a kind of pancake made from a fresh corn dough. Once it's grilled into a perfect ratio of crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, it gets folded over a hefty dose of queso de mano, a beautifully salty and elastic cheese that could kick mozzarella's ass any day of the week. The secret here—and it's a secret that made me go a bit weak in the knees—is the sweet flavor within that fresh corn dough that sneaks up on you with every bite. It's not cloying at all—it's the same kiss of sweetness that you get when a kernel of corn pops in your mouth. Once your mouth pairs that subtle drop of flavor with the saltiness of all that melty cheese, it's like fireworks.
My cachapa of choice is known as La Condesa ($12.50), or The Countess. It's half a cachapa stuffed with queso de mano and sliced pork sausage before getting topped with fried pork cubes and crumbly cheese. I don't think you can really go wrong with a cachapa here, but La Condesa's bitty slices of chorizo will lure me in every time. If you're after the ultimate cachapa adventure, you need only ask for the Doña Barbara ($25.50), but you'll want to make sure you've brought some company to help out. This entrée comes with two whole cachapas—La Condesa is only half a cachapa and it's more than enough for one person—piled high with all the smoked and friend meats Venezuela Mia can throw at you, along with generous helpings of melty queso de mano.
Even when deviating from the cachapa section of the menu, Venezuela Mia's penchant for excess is everywhere. Their list of multi-meat burgers is rounded out by a monster known as Super Golosa ($37) that will handily feed a party of four. This extreme entrée offers up your choice of three—yes, three—of the restaurant's signature proteins served up with fries, cabbage, and lots of queso de mano along with smoked ham and bacon—!!!—before getting topped with a house made crema sauce. Under no circumstances should one try to tackle this beast alone but sharing the experience with a few gastronomically adventurous buddies will create a meal to remember.
For more of a solo adventure, I'd recommend the arepa de la casa ($9.99), which is a solid rendition of this traditional Venezuelan sandwich. It's got a nice crispy corn exterior and is stuffed with your choice of shredded beef or chicken, queso de mano and smoked ham. There are less meat-centric arepas to choose from, but if you're craving a fistful of lovingly smoked meats covered in melty cheese, this is your dreamboat.
The dish that really lets you dig into and appreciate the meatcraft happening at Venezuela Mia is the Picada Reina Lucero ($16), a marvelous food pile that could be poutine's South American cousin. It's built on a thick foundation of fried arepa dough that supports a plethora of proteins like smoked brisket, fried pork and cheese cubes that get nice and melty as you go. The brisket is beautifully smoked, but it's not overcooked to the point where it just falls apart—there's an ever so pleasant texture to these meaty bits.
With a stacked menu filled with tantalizing meat and cheese combos, a penchant for absurdly excessive portions and a design concept that is very social media friendly, Venezuela Mia is poised to become one of the areas hottest destinations. Just remember to come hungry.