Regional Venezuelan Food on Fullerton
I'm slowly working my way through the spots that opened slightly before the pandemic. Today's stop Sabe a Zulia is one of them. They opened right around the end of 2019 out on the 5300 block of West Fullerton. Chicago has gone from zero Venezuelan restaurants to a handful and counting in the last five years or so. Sabe a Zulia might be the most exciting of them all at least for me as it's a regionally focused spot. Zulia is one of the 23 states of Venezuela. A country that's gone into disarray and in doing so forced many of it's citizens to flee looking for a better life. It's not just Chicago that's seen a boom in Venezuelan food it's the US as a whole. It's no longer exclusive to just South Florida.
Locals Favorite in Belmont-Cragin
When I first saw Sabe a Zulia was open in a recently opened restaurants search I searched around and found their instagram page. It seems as though Venezuelan's in the States are great at networking with other Venezuelans as their account has thousands of followers and is updated often. It's all in Spanish but the translation option works pretty well. Through that (and online google reviews) I was able to learn that they focus on food from a specific region of Venezuela. You'll see there's quite a few menu items not found at other Venezuelan spots around town. But for starters they offer up some very traditional options. Tequeños are to Venezuela as mozzarella sticks are to the United States. Actually these are probably more popular over there than mozzarella sticks are here. They're the quintessential Venezuelan snack. They're simply a fried breaded cheese stick or a spear of bread dough with queso blanco stuffed in the middle and fried. I feel like their deliciousness depends on if they're fried fresh or not but most spots pre-make them and keep them in the display case making for a quick snack. I haven't tried the pastelitos yet but those too are a popular Venezuelan snack.
Pabellón Empanada and Tequeño
Speaking of which there's a large of number of snacks on offer. The prices here are kind of ridiculous. There's no better example of this than the empanadas which are massive half moons of fried dough stuffed with a meal worth of food. I tried the Pabellón empanada thinking it would just be a regular sized 2-3 bite treat with some shredded beef which is basically what pabellón is (it's one of the country's most popular meals). Surprised I was when I picked it up and it felt like the heaviest empanada I've ever lifted. That's bc it was stuffed with shredded beef, cheese, rice, beans, and a plantain. It was an entire pabellón dinner in empanada form and just $3.50. The hot dogs cost $2 which seems almost unfair. Fine they're not made with a natural casing Vienna Beef or anything like that but they are enjoyable if like me you get a kick out of Latin American hot dog culture. Every country loads up their dogs differently and as a lifelong Chicagoan this is something I can respect. In most Latin American countries there is no specific way to eat a hot dog as most stands offer a ton of topping options. That said each country has a specific topping combination they're known for. In Venezuela they like to eat their hot dogs with ketchup, mustard, mayo (or mayo based sauce), shredded cabbage, and potato stix. That's the tasty topping combination you're looking at below.
Venezuelan Hot Dog in Chicago
Another post from their instagram page that intrigued me was their sandwich selection. I guess sandwiches are big in Zulia where they call them morochos. An online review reads "It tastes like Zulia lives up to its name! These Morochos gave me back to my childhood in my beloved Maracaibo" so of course I was intrigued. Maracaibo is the capitol city of Zulia and a quick search of it paired with "morochos" nets you lots of info on spots serving these sandwiches in the city. They must like their pressed ham and cheese sandwiches bc that's essentially what these are. It was my first morocho so nothing to compare to but at $4 it's got a great price to taste ratio. Intrigued to try other versions.
Morocho estilo Maracaibo at Sabe a Zulia
The regional dish that hit the spot hardest was what they call a "Aguita de Sapo" on the menu. Which translates to toad water on instagram. A quick google search reveals these are also popular in the state of Zulia but it's confusing bc there's apparently a drink in Costa Rica called toad water so it's hard to find a recipe. That said they're fried arepas that are cut in half to act like a top and bottom bun and in between goes both a piece of fried cheese and lots of shredded cabbage and pernil (pork). Again at just $4 each this is pretty much a complete meal. But it did suffer a little in carryout mode.
Aguita de Sapo at Sabe a Zulia
Perhaps the most intriguing dish was a Cabimera style Arepa. While they do offer traditional arepas and in two sizes at that I couldn't pass on a chance to check this regional style out. Even if I knew it was probably not going to get finished. I saw a pic on instagram and I'm pretty sure this dish would intimidate most but certain parts of Latin America seem to have a love for dishes like this. It's kind of like an arepa meets nachos dish. It starts out with a fried arepa (or two) that are chopped up into bite size pieces. In the nacho comparison they play the chips. After that comes an array of popular Venezuelan arepa toppings and fillings including shredded beef, ham, shredded cheese, hard boiled egg, pickled onions, ketchup, mayo, and Parmesan. A little too much for us but to each their own. The most popular item with customers, all of whom seem to be Venezuelan, is the patacon. This is another culinary claim to fame of Maracaibo. The patacon is quite similar to the jibarito actually in that it substitutes fried plantains for bread. But at Sabe a Zulia they make a massive version that has to be eaten with a knife and fork. Served in small and large the large comes on a sizzling platter with about a pound of meat and melted cheese over the top. Seems like it wouldn't travel well so I'll try that when dining inside is less riskier. Like I said it seems as though Venezuelans network well so if you visit on a weekend you can expect them to be pretty busy as it's a small space. More to come.
Cabimera Arepa at Sabe a Zulia
Sabe a Zulia
5306 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60639