If you travel the 35W corridor north of Minneapolis and are on the lookout for a place to get a quick bite that doesn’t involve golden arches or maniacal kings, we have good news for you. Hop off at Highway 10 in Mounds View, and you’re only a minute away from Arepa Bite.
Oddly, it shares a parking lot with a Taco Bell, and it, too, is decorated in bright, cheerful colors. The comparison stops there, though. Arepa Bite is doing quick-service Venezuelan food using a method somewhat similar to that of Chipotle: There are precooked ingredients waiting to be assembled as you watch, although there are also menu items that are completely cooked to order. This quick-service trend is something we’ve been seeing more of lately (at places like Catrina’s). Arepa Bite’s menu focuses on arepas, which are little cooked cornmeal patties that are split open and made into a sandwich, and parrillas, food cooked on a grill (parilla in Spanish).
We tried some of each on a recent visit and were pleased with the results. The Pabellon Arepa ($7) had layers of shredded beef, black beans, white Cheddar, and fried plantains, served on a white-corn arepa. The meat was tender and juicy — indicating that it had not been sitting on the line for long — and had mild flavors of cumin and garlic nicely offset by the sweeter plantain. An accompanying “Venezuelan sauce,” which appeared to be similar to Mexican crema, had bright notes of parsley and cilantro and was as good on the arepa as it was as a dunking sauce for the mildly sweet Fried Yuca ($2.35).
On the cooked-to-order side, we decided to try a parilla. We ordered the grilled chicken, but the friendly woman taking our order suggested — OK, flat out said — that the Grilled Beef ($12) was better. While we have no idea how the chicken parilla tasted, we can vouch for the beef version being quite lovely and almost Midwestern in its composition: hearty chunks of potatoes covered with impeccably grilled beef bites, covered in that same delicious Venezuelan sauce.
We also took the employee’s recommendation for a beverage and had a Papelón with lemon ($2.75), a juice made of raw, hardened sugarcane juice mixed with lemon juice. It was pleasantly sweet without being cloying and was a refreshing side for the arepa and parilla.
To top things off, we finished with cheese and guava Tequeños ($6), basically a breadstick with cheese and guava inside. It was lighter than it sounds; the breadstick was delicate and crisp, while the filling was not excessive, just enough to get a sense of richness and sweetness.
Is Arepa Bite at the level of Hola Arepa? No, but they’re not trying to be. Arepa Bite is meant to be a fresher, lighter option for fast food, and it’s certainly truer to its ethnic roots than the “Mexican” fast food place across the parking lot. So keep it in mind when you’re heading north of the cities and feel despair at the dominance of big chains; there is a better option.
Venezuelan quick-service food in Mounds View
2213 County Highway 10
Mounds View, MN 55112
Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Sun 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $6-$12
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Free parking lot