Sentimentality is tricky business. You never know when the things you love most will mildly bore someone else. Nevertheless, Scout and I have taken a risk with this post. Should you choose to read on, we think you’ll find in our ramblings a few treasures about unexpected food and friendliness in a place known for tourism, fast-cash, and hotel edifices.
Like all of our posts, this one is by Scout and Anna. Together, we poured through old Las Vegas photos and regretted our fur in 2017. This first part, however, is just by me (Anna). While Scout is in denial over this point, Team Frymire actually had a life before this opinionated rabbit arrived and took over. I’m here to tell you a little about that life.
We told you that this post would be about Viva Las Arepas which is quite possibly the best Venezuelan food you’ll find outside of Venezuela. Well, that’s not entirely true. This article is still about the greatest arepas we’ve ever eaten, but it’s also an ode to the most misunderstood city in America: Las Vegas.
As a Coloradan, I was raised in a place known for its fresh air, four seasons, and irritating abundance of outdoorsy people in North Face jackets. Despite my better judgement and dislike for exercise, I was a Coloradan through and through. When I learned I’d be moving to Las Vegas, NV, after marrying Daniel of Team Frymire, I was confident that my once bright future would be reduced to sequins, fishnet tights, scorching desert heat, never-ending-dry-flaky-skin, and crappy casino food. I was determined not to like Vegas and I avoided telling people where I was moving. When they asked, I’d mumble “just Nevada” in hopes that they thought I said New York, Chicago, or San Francisco under my breath.
You want to know something? I was wrong. I wasn’t wrong about the sequins, fishnet tights, scorching desert heat, or never-ending-dry-flaky-skin. All of that (and more) happened. I was wrong about the food. You might be thinking, “Okay, so the food was good. How does that make up for the sins of a trashy city known the world-over for it’s dedication to magic shows and drunken crimes?” Here’s how: Food is friendship. Walk into a restaurant where everyone speaks a language you don’t know and watch how you’re offered a plate of steaming food. That, readers, is a little plate of friendship and Las Vegas offers many “plates of friendship”.
Downtown Las Vegas is the hottest, glampy-est place you’ll ever go. It’s like an episode of “America’s Most Wanted” meets the “Real Housewives” in an explosion of glitter. The Strip is a 24-hour festival of atrocities for your liver. It’s a swirling nude circus. It’s a seizure-inducing light show. It’s a celebration of degradation. It’s not Las Vegas.
The Strip is a 24-hour festival of atrocities for your liver. It’s a swirling nude circus. It’s a seizure-inducing light show. It’s a celebration of degradation. It’s not Las Vegas.
If you’ve been to The Strip and thought you saw Vegas, you may have wasted your money. Sure, you got overpriced Fat Tuesdays and saw an incredible show just before you committed another felony. If that’s what you came for, then I guess your night in jail was a return on investment. That’s not Scout and Team Frymire’s Vegas. The Real Vegas is all the stuff that’s happening around the corner in the strip mall next to the dry cleaners. You see, tourists’ exorbitant shopping binges and gambling losses pay for the roads and day (or night) jobs. Nevertheless, they’re a flash of noise in the dark as the locals get on with their lives. Want to know the best-kept Vegas secret and Scout Tip? Find The Strip and drive the other way.
That’s exactly what we did when we discovered Viva Las Arepas.
Viva Las Arepas
Hidden behind The Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard next to the Bail Bonds sits Viva Las Arepas. There’s a handful of parking spaces and you’ll drive past the entrance three or four times before you realize you need to get over your inhibitions, jump the curb, and park illegally wherever there’s not a car.
As you open the door to the restaurant, you’ll be overwhelmed by the rich, smokey aromas wafting from the wood burning stove. The yellow booths and wooden tables are reminiscent of your favorite neighborhood diner. Bags of cornmeal are piled next to the register. The menu is mounted on the wall behind the counter just above the stove. If you’re not sure what’s what, stare at the ceiling. Really. Just below the ceiling like a wallpaper border in your favorite granny’s kitchen are photos of all of Viva Las Arepas’ offerings. Just choose a picture (or five) and place your order.
Everyone who works here is sincerely happy to feed you. This family-owned business began as an unknown food cart and grew into a crowded, local treasure. You’ll always be greeted with a smile and given the opportunity to ask questions. My first question: “What’s an arepa?”
An arepa is a kind of bun made from ground maize dough. It’s often topped with cheese, meat, or avocado. In this case, the arepa is sliced in two and filled like a sandwich. Each one is stuffed to the brim with fresh veggies, wood fired meat, and cheese. Sound like perfection? It is.
This family-owned business began as an unknown food cart and grew into a crowded, local treasure.
We have a confession to make: we only have two photos of Viva Las Arepas. We know what you’re thinking, “You started a food article on a food blog without food photos?” The answer is, “Yes. That’s exactly what we did.”
When Scout and I decided to tell you about Viva Las Arepas, we had so many images in mind. We thought of the neon “Viva Las Arepas” on the storefront, the mustard yellow booths, and the stacks of firewood piled next to the wood burning stove. We were absolutely-positively-without-a-doubt-sure we had these photos. When we poured through every last photo album, Instagram post, and external hard drive in search of these photos and found none, we had a terrible realization:
WE’D BEEN ROBBED!
It’s awful when people break into your home, hack your accounts, and steal your Viva Las Arepas photos. We sincerely hope this never happens to you.
As it is, we have two photos for you. The first photo is from the time my sister (“The Deb”) first visited Team Frymire to see the Real Vegas (above). She ordered the #7 (Arepa Reina Pepiada) and immediately fell in love with the charred chicken tossed with avocado and cilantro. (Check out the full menu here.)
This next photo features Daniel of Team Frymire with the #4 (Arepa Roasted Pork) with a fried egg. We aren’t sure whether he’s feeling like a Peruvian gangster, annoyed by the camera, or just trying to swallow. We would’ve chosen another photo, but like we said, there were only two…
This brings us to the present. Without further adieu, Scout will hop in and share his opinion.
Viva Las Arepas was one of the few places Scout got to go with Team Frymire before we moved to NorCal and he wants you to know that he misses this food weekly. While Team Frymire is at work, Scout scrolls through flights on Southwest.com in hopes of visiting Viva Las Arepas for lunch. As I (Anna of Team Frymire) type this up on his behalf, I’m a little upset that he didn’t consult with Team Frymire sooner since we also miss Viva Las Arepas. Apparently he was planning a trip on his own? That’s another discussion for another time.
When Scout does return to Viva Las Arepas, he’ll order the fried plantains and #5 (Arepa Black Beans & Cheese). He’ll also drench his order in the unidentified crack-sauce in the unmarked plastic bottles strategically placed at each table. Lastly, he’ll grab an entire roll of the complimentary paper towels because good food and messy food are the same thing. (Scout Tip: Drench your food in the crack-sauce.)
Oh, and in case it wasn’t already terribly obvious, Scout gives Viva Las Arepas a #5 on Scout’s Foreboding Five-Point Scale. PLEASE grab your tribe and form a line because this spot is “Scout Approved”!
Now that you know one of Vegas’ best-kept food secrets, you’re probably wondering, “What else happened in Vegas?” The real question is, “What didn’t happen in Vegas?” After we fell in love with the trashiest, coziest, most misunderstood city in America, we never wanted to leave. Since this could take hours, we’ve narrowed our Las Vegas Life down to the highlights. During our two years in Las Vegas, we…
Bought and sold our first home
Partied at the Life is Beautiful Festival (twice)
Paid homage to the public art
Made the coolest friends
Repaired a flooded basement in said first home
Acted like tourists for a night
Got 100 In-N-Out gift cards and took everyone there
Talked with our friends about how they survived the largest mass shooting in U.S. history
Anna said she’d never work with little kids. She worked at an elementary school. (It was the best job ever.)
Daniel promoted to Captain.
Daniel left for his first deployment. Team Frymire made it!
Anna got her first tattoo.
Daniel made his own (impossible) sourdough starter in a desert.
And finally, we went to a little park up the street known as the “bunny dump” and met Scout. But you already know how that turned out…
Visit Vegas… for real
Contemplating a trip to Vegas? Book your flight! When you do step off that plane, we hope your itinerary includes a few spots outside the usual tourist destinations. Vegas locals are some of the warmest people you’ll meet (once they realize you’re not here to abduct their kids). Give the Real Vegas a try and you might just find you love the people, places, and food that’s…