I have recently experienced Venezuelan food for the first time, at a taco wagon in Humble, TX, and at a small cafe on Houston's far SE side, Pana's Cafe. The place is run by a couple of very personable, young Venezuelans, at least one of whom is a very good cook, and has only been open a few months. After sampling the snack sized empanadas in Humble, I wanted to try their version, which is much bigger, the size of burritos.
Venezuela is unique in that they use corn meal based dough for empanadas; in fact, arepas. At Pana's, they roll the dough out thinner and larger and put in lots more filling.
The one shown is black beans and cheese. The green sauce is garlic and cilantro; the other sauce, on the right edge of the picture, is tomatoes and jalapenos. I liked the milder green sauce better. I like the snack sized empanadas I got in Humble but the fillings at Pana's are much better.
Its a tiny place with just a shelf along the wall and stools for dining. I observed them making a fantastic looking sandwich, the patacones, and it was served to the fellow sitting next to me. We struck up a conversation and managed to communicate though we spoke different languages. I understood he was born in Mexico but had lived in several Central and South American countries. He was either saying Venezuelan cuisine was the best or at least this particular sandwich is unmatched in any other cuisine. The patacones uses mashed, fried plaintains in place of bread:
I decided I had to try one. This is a wonderfully messy sandwich consisting of shredded beef or chicken, tomato, lettuce, soft cheese, onion, black beans, avocado, and garlic sauce. Very filling and it stays with you. I wasn't over-stuffed when I left the place but I wasn't hungry 8 hours later either.
Both places had hamburguesas on the menu and I discovered it's apparently standard in Venezuela that hamburgers come with ham, a la the Roy Rogers burger lamented by many Roadfooders. According to the menu, a hamburguesa Venezuelan style includes beef patties, ham, tomato, lettuces, mini-French fries, soft cheese, and pink and green garlic sauces!
Pana's has a very small menu but they told me they do a special soup every Saturday so I'm planning on another visit then to try the soup and a hamburguesa.