La Crema de las Empanadas: Real Latin cooking

Most foodies turn up their noses when asked about dining in shopping centers. But every once in a while, when something is really worth it, they suck up their gourmet pride and dine within reach of Subways and dollar stores. La Crema de las Empanadas (7800 NW 25th St., Doral; 786-621-8899) is a place worth such a sacrifice.

Located in the heart of Doral, right off the Palmetto Expressway on 25th Street, the eatery is just a few feet from a mixed martial arts gym. But inside, the Venezuelan owner and employees have been serving traditional and hearty portions of Venezuelan goodness for the past seven years.

Venezuelan flags are painted on the front of the restaurant, which offers an array of empanadas, arepas, and perros calientes (hot dogs). But it's the patacones that stand above the rest.

Similar to monstrous sandwiches, they contain marinated shredded meat (chicken or beef), cheese, fried potato crisps, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mustard, all packed between two giant fried plantains. The massive meal is also garnished with French fries. Both the patacones and arepas ($7) can be filled with an array of extras including beans, rice, and several different types of cheeses. Side salads and soups are also available. Some customers order fresh fruit juices ($3) to wash down their heavy meals. This genuine spot even sells Venezuelan candies such as the chocolate wafer bar Cocosette.

A winding queue of eager-to-order neighborhood patrons fills the small restaurant every day at lunchtime. Spanish chatter fills the air. The décor is simple, with almost everything in a light wood finish. There's a wide food station where nearly everything is prepared freshly in plain sight. A cramped seating area no larger than a bedroom fills the rest of the joint.

Adding to the authenticity: Not a single employee speaks English, and hopeful eaters must know the proper Venezuelan translations to place an order. For those interested, shredded beef is carne mechada, black beans are caraotas negras, and passion fruit is parchita.

La Crema de las Empanadas seems to be the perfect neighborhood eatery: bustling atmosphere, loyal customers, and consistently well-prepared and authentic food. The restaurant also has locations on Coral Way and in Hialeah Gardens.

 
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