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Sep 16, 2013 09:29 AM

Chow Trifecta Just North of Stratosphere -- Tacos, Arepas, and Gelato

On the spur of the moment and without reservations, my brother and I descended on Lotus of Siam at 9:00 p.m. and they were absolutely slammed -- more than 25 people waiting outside, with 15 or so more in the waiting room.

My brother had not only never been to Viva Las Arepas (just north of the Stratosphere at 1616 S. Las Vegas Blvd.), but never had an arepa. This deficiency had to be rectified, so we called an audible. When we got to this Venezuelan treasure, we noticed that the taco stand that the Viva folks had been working on was finally open, so we decided to do a little crawl and start with an al pastor taco. It was definitely one of the best in town. It is located right across from the strip mall where Viva is -- Olympic Gardens is across Las Vegas Blvd. Although the passersby were grubby, the stand was immaculate (there are stools and a narrow counter to put your food on), and so was the fully-loaded condiment bar, with impeccable onions and cilantro, a great hot sauce, and untested white and green sauces. I can't wait to test their other food (including tortas) -- they are open late, and still working on what their hours will be).

We then ambled over to Viva Las Arepas. My brother had a shrimp in garlic sauce arepa and I had my beloved cachapas. On an earlier trip last week, a friend tried the cachapas with the same beef as is used in the arepas, and I scoffed, but had to admit it was great. The idea way to experience Viva Las Arepas is to go with a group, split the superb mixed grill, and each get an arepa (although I vote for the cachapa!).

We saved the best for last. As far as I can tell, the best gelato ever in Las Vegas can be had right next door to Viva, at The Art of Flavor. I've been there six times, and have enjoyed almost all the flavors. Best of all is meeting the gelato maker, Desyree Alberganti, late of Valentino's, who produces all natural, clean gelato. When she is there, Desyree will offer you samples of any and all her offerings, probably starting you out with fior de latte, just dairy and sugar (think vanilla ice cream without the vanilla). She is a sweetheart, and she deserves great success. I was Some favorites of her rotating parade include a cucumber and ginger sorbet, white coffee bean (it tastes a little like a latte), a chocolate and biscotti, and chocolate with chiles (pasilla peppers, I believe). I don't usually like chocolate ice cream, but hers are vibrant (try the chocolate sorbet -- it's hard to believe there is no dairy in it).

What a great night amidst what was once a Chowhound desert. Add Fat Choy, and there's much to like in the area.

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  1. Thanks for the post Dave. I have not tried any of these places, but will put them on the "downtown options" list. Can't wait to try the gelato!

    1. Went to Viva Las Arepas and had a great meal.

      Dad had the ribs which were outstanding. The special spicy chicken wings were also great, similar flavor to the ribs but with some heat.

      3 yo was being difficult but saw the sign for the cachapas and loved it.

      Pork shoulder arepa was good but needed liberal doses of the green hot sauce.

      Thanks for the tip, I only wish my son had been behaving well enough to stop for gelato!

      1. It is actually a pleasure to have to wait in line at lunch time these days at Viva Las Arepas, a tribute to some pride and passion in play. And we should note that there is a lot more going on here beyond the original menu. The spicy chicken wings that JRSD noted were on the specials board this week, as well as a grilled snapper, and we were fortunate to stumble in at the right time to enjoy a terrific bowl of "zuppa de costillitas", some classic Venezuelan home cooking (photo attached). And even if you leave too full to head next door for one of Desyree's concoctions, which was the case today, the freezer section is now filled with gelatos to go.

        6 Replies
        1. re: QAW

          That soup looks great. Does an arepa automatically come with it?

          1. re: Dave Feldman

            In this instance, it was courtesy of Felix. But not a bad idea to grab one on the side, for some dunking and sopping (at $6 for a large bowl the soup was a ridiculous bargain). The broth was comparable to a posole, just a bit richer, with plenty of fresh vegetables to go with a generous amount of rib meat.

            1. re: Dave Feldman

              I've led a very sheltered life, Dave. What is an Arepa? Is it similar to an empanada?

              1. re: mucho gordo

                An arepa is a corn cake that is a staple of both Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine. Chowhound's founder, Jim Leff, wrote a wonderful tribute to a woman who makes the best arepas I've ever had: She was a judge in Colombia and had to leave because of threats on her life. I've never had better arepas, but I think Viva Las Arepas' cachapas (arepas made with fresh corn flour) are just as good as hers. Maybe next time I'm in town we can do the trifecta tour I mentioned above.

                You may not be able to tell it from this video, but when she is serving her arepas, Maria really does seem like a saint. She glows in the same way that Saipin Chutima does when she is in her element at Lotus of Siam:

                1. re: Dave Feldman

                  Looks more like a quesadilla. As long as it has meat in it, I'm happy.

                  1. re: mucho gordo

                    An arepa is much denser than a tortilla, even flour tortillas. Most customers at VLA seem to prefer meat (or shrimp) fillings, but I like them plainer, with cheese and/or butter, even though many of the meat preps are fantastic.