Venezuela is home to many delicacies, but a country’s simpler cuisine always says the most about the heart of its people. In Venezuela’s case this includes arepas, which are warm rounds baked from maize flour that can be filled with any number of delicious things, empanadas – Spain’s gift to the turnover-eating world – and tequeños, which defy description.
I spoke with the eldest daughter of the family which owns TequeArepa. The Chacóns, she explained, don’t hold job titles or seek special credit for their contributions to the family business. If brother folds pastry dough while sister speaks on the phone with the man from the magazine, they’re both pulling their weight. (Surely mom and dad hold a little more clout in the grand scheme of things, but that is always how things go.)
“The American dream is my family’s story,” said Miss Chacón. “We bounced around the country for a little while before we fell in love with Eden Prairie. Out east people are a little … colder, not to be mean, but Midwesterners are always happy to stop and chat. And the land here is beautiful. Once we stayed in Minnesota longer than anywhere else, we knew we would stay for good.
“But as you can imagine, when we moved here there was no Venezuelan food. We couldn’t even find corn flour in the supermarket! In time our parents gathered the ingredients they needed to raise us on the same foods they had grown up with. They then saw an opportunity to share our traditional food with the community we were so grateful to join, and decided to open Minnesota’s very first Venezuelan restaurant.
“Our name is a mishmash of our two signature dishes: tequeños and arepas, both of which are essentials at every Venezuelan breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Someone who has never eaten a tequeño before is always delighted to discover that it is the South American version of a fried mozzarella stick. We take fresh spears of queso blanco, wrap them by hand inside fluffy layers of pastry dough, and deep fry them until the outsides turn golden brown and the queso becomes molten. We serve five tequeños to a single order, so naturally everyone in the family spends a lot of time wrapping queso – but that just means love goes into every single one.
“Our arepas start out as discs of freshly kneaded corn dough, which we bake until they’re just a little crispy on the outside and warm and airy on the inside. Once you have sliced open an arepa, you can put anything you like in it. We let our customers pick whichever fillings they prefer, but we also offer over a dozen different arepas on our menu like the pernil which is filled with slow-roasted marinated pork, and the reina pepiada – the queen of all arepas – with shredded chicken and fresh avocado. Our carne mechada, which is made with shredded beef and our family’s own secret blend of seasonings, has earned an especially big following, and so has our pabellón with select pork, chicken or beef and black beans, sweet plantain and queso blanco.
“Whether it’s our empanadas, burritos, fried side dishes or milkshakes and smoothies, everything at TequeArepa is made with fresh and natural ingredients. And it’s very convenient that traditional Venezuelan food doesn't use wheat (with a few exceptions, such as our tequeños, burritos and special holiday bread), which makes our restaurant a must-visit for anyone who’s following a gluten-free diet.
“Working here with my family keeps everyone close. We get to have fun seeing each other every day, and I believe that good energy carries right into our dining room. But even if you only order takeout, I think you’ll notice there’s just a little more heart here at TequeArepa.”
TequeArepa is located at 7733 Flying Cloud Drive in Eden Prairie. You can learn more and order online at tequearepa.com.