By MB Partlow
I’m a big fan of road trips. Whether the destination is two hours or 2,000 miles away, I’m all for loading up the car, cranking up the radio and looking for adventure (and unusual roadside attractions). One of the best tricks I’ve learned is to search for small mom-and-pop restaurants in strip malls. For some reason, one can often find great people and great food across the parking lot from a mega mart. Go figure.
In the strip mall behind Cheers Liquor Mart, anchored by a Safeway at one end and Metric Brewing at the other, sits a little restaurant that has cycled through several iterations. When its owner decided to make the leap from food truck (sold this past April) to brick-and-mortar, this is the spot they decided to call home.
If you go
1169 N. Circle Drive, 719-351-2190, kariacosfood.com, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday and Sundays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday
Not being overly familiar with Venezuelan cuisine, I figure sandwiches are a good place to start. Holy hell. The Pepito sandwich is too big for humans to get their mouth around, and it’s perfection. Such a riot of flavors and textures, starting with steak, chicken and bacon. The perfectly cooked meats are topped with potato sticks (for crunch), then Parmesan and gouda cheeses (for tangy and nutty notes), dressed with ketchup and Kariacos sauce (ingredients undisclosed). This round log of sandwich filling, encased in a crispy crusty roll, comes with fries and is plenty for two hungry people.
I spy the Plantain sandwich. Plantains aren’t that big around. This should be a small sandwich, right? No again — grab some napkins before you start. Practically as tall as it is big around, two crunchy, salted fried plantains try valiantly to hold all the filling. The base of delicious grilled chicken comes with lettuce and tomato, no surprise. Then add corn (yes, some will fall out, and you won’t care), more crunch with potato sticks, tangles of shredded gouda, and a slathering of that delicious Kariacos sauce.
Continuing on theme: the Arepa Sampler, with three beautifully presented mini arepas. The arepas themselves, fairly light with a delicate corn flavor, pair beautifully with rich shredded beef, tangy pulled pork and moist, creamy shredded chicken. Somewhere in this festival of food I sample sweet plantains. Fried enough to achieve a creamy inner texture, the exterior gets subtle crunchy brown bits that add depth to the intense banana flavor. Tip: If you have any left, dice them and add them to your oatmeal the next morning. Thank me later.
Who doesn’t like a meat pie? Seasoned meat encased in dough and baked or fried, this delight still fits my sandwich theme if I stretch the boundaries (and my waistband) a little. While Kariacos has empanadas, I try something new to me — pastelito. The dough is thinner and crisper than an empanada, and the edges are crimped instead of rolled. The ground beef filling, flavored with onions, garlic and paprika, tastes juicy and savory. Grab another handful of napkins for this one. Or maybe you’re just a neater eater than I am.
I pivot away from sandwiches and go for broke with the Parilla, which is easily enough for three or four people. Marinated sirloin and a ton of chicken breast, all sliced thin, juicy, tender and bursting with grilled flavor. Plus a split and grilled chorizo that starts out mild but builds to a nice spicy kick. Also included are fried tostones, yucca fries (fluffy in the middle, crispy on the outside) and arepitas (cornmeal fritters, pillowy soft and chewy rather than crispy). The platter also contains two green sauces (one verdant with fresh cilantro, the other herby and creamy with the addition of avocado) as well as a fresh and onion-y pico de gallo.
A couple of notes: First, their online ordering system rates as one of the best I’ve used, and despite being a small operation, the food is always ready on time. Second, they pay a lot of attention to details when packaging up their food. Every item looks like a gift, and a delicious one at that. Finally, whether you’re having a beer at Metric, grabbing a bottle of wine at Cheers or picking up groceries at Safeway, a to-go order from Kariacos makes for a simple way to put a savory and mouth-watering spin on lunch or dinner.
Trust me when I say: This place is worth the drive.