One late night in Louisiana, Benoit Angulo and his future wife Rachel had an idea. While enjoying a few drinks, they were hungry and exasperated at the lack of nearby late-night food options. Benoit suggested starting a food truck together, and the idea stuck.
In November of 2011, La Cocinita Food Truck was born. In 2016, however, the “little kitchen” traded its wheels for a permanent location and opened on Chicago Avenue in Evanston, Illinois.
The meal began with a taste of horchata, a Latin American drink made with rice, pure cane sugar, cinnamon and other spices. This sweet and gritty drink is hand-made, and requires stirring before served fresh from a large container at the register. La Cocinita also offers other fun and authentic drinks like Agua Fresca, Mexican Coke and Jarritos Mexican sodas.
“We make nearly everything here by hand, and braise the meat ourselves. We focus on keeping it healthy, with all real ingredients,” La Cocinita owner Benoit Angulo said as he prepared us for the feast to come.
We kicked off our meal with the Empanada Trio, which includes three crispy empanadas filled with with beef, chicken or cheese. The cheese empanada was a true winner, and tasted amazing dipped in the savory – but not too spicy – dipping sauce.
Next came La Cocinita’s specialty: arepas. These pita-like pockets of ground maize-dough are cooked and stuffed with fillings like meat, cheese, vegetables or guasacaca (Venezuelan guacamole).
Pictured above left is El Pabellon, or the Venezuelan national dish. Stuffed with shredded Beef, sweet plantains, queso fresco, black beans and crema, this little arepa packed an incredibly flavorful punch. Above right is the Reina Pepiada, filled with Venezuelan avocado chicken salad, pickled tomato and cotija cheese – a true fiesta for the tastebuds.
“Our arepas are what really set us apart,” Angulo said. “They’re very much a Venezuelan thing. We like to call them ‘Venezuela’s gift to the world,’ or a ‘packet of Venezuelan happiness.'”
Can confirm: La Cocinita’s arepas were indeed a gift of pure Venezuelan joy.
Next up, patacones. These intriguing sandwiches use fried green plantains as bread, and feature steak, cabbage slaw, queso fresco and salsa verde. The thin plantains allow the flavors of the fillings to really shine in this dish, without the distracting heaviness of bread like traditional sandwiches.
A Sense of Community
According to Angulo, La Cocinita has had incredible success as a food truck in Chicago and New Orleans. Although moving to a stationary restaurant was risky, Evanston’s La Cocinita has made a smooth transition.
The real indicator of success, however, might be the sense of community that the restaurant has fostered.
“We’ve seen so many Venezuelan-Americans come in since we opened. We never expected to see this many here, but it’s been great for them to be able to get an authentic taste of home,” Angulo said.
Make sure to come try La Cocinita at SpoonFest: Deering Meadow, May 20th from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.