When Luis’s Arepera & Grill first opened in the spot formerly occupied by Vivian’s Drive-In, the tiny parking lot seemed almost as barren as it did during the many months after Vivian’s closed.
But when I visited over the lunch hour last week, things had definitely changed. The little grill, which recently moved north from Saco and serves Venezuelan food, was awash in a steady stream of customers eager to try something different.
Luis’s is, for all practical purposes, a take-out place. The kitchen takes up most of the space. There are five stools overlooking Forest Avenue, but when I was there, the customers who had arrived before me were using those as a place to sit and wait for their orders. Orders are taken at a counter lined with bottles of hot sauce.
I decided to try the special of the day, an arepa and fried yucca combo that cost $9.99. I got the ground beef arepa, a thick, soft corn pocket filled with ground beef, lettuce and small bits of caramelized onion. The fried yucca (for those who aren’t familiar, yucca is a root vegetable) was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and reminded me of french fries. In fact, the entire meal was like the Venezuelan version of a burger and fries.
Luis’s menu suggests that its food is “best eaten with your hands,” so I took their advice and did just that. The food was quite good – not too greasy, as I had feared – but also quite messy, so be sure to have several napkins within arm’s reach.
Ordered on its own, the arepa would have cost $6.99. Luis’s sells about a dozen versions ranging from 99 cents to $6.99, including shredded beef, shredded chicken, turkey and cheese, bean and cheese, three cheese and avocado. The fried yucca can be ordered on its own as well for $5.99 as an appetizer. Other appetizers include fried green plantains with avocado sauce and several versions of empanadas, including beef, chicken and bean.
Luis’s offers four plates in the $11 to $12 range, including Venezuelan tostadas, in which fried plantains substitute for the corn tortilla. The Pabellon Criollo consists of shredded beef over white rice, served with a side of black beans and sweet plantains.
An on-site cooler is stocked with the usual drink offerings, but also mango juice, guava juice (my favorite) and tamarindo juice.
If you’re in the mood for something sweet, Luis’s sells cinnamon churros. But my lunch was so filling I didn’t even feel a hint of hunger for the next nine – yes, nine – hours.
WHERE: 948 Forest Ave., Portland, 286-8646, luisareperaandgrill.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; closed Saturday and Sunday
WAIT: About 10 minutes
PARKING: Limited parking around the building, with some street parking as well
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: One of the two entrances looks as if it might be able to accommodate a wheelchair, but the inside is very small and maneuvering a chair would be difficult.