Move over, tacos. It’s the arepa's time to shine. The South American street food has soared in popularity on Miami’s food scene with the help of one particular arepa dynasty — Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine.
Tucked into a small strip mall on Coral Way, this areperia brings the soul, passion, and flavors of Venezuela to a menu based on quick Venezuelan comfort food with a modern twist. Doggi’s street-style cuisine — along with its cozy ten-table interior, featuring framed photos, maracas, and cast-iron skillets — transports customers to Caracas.
At the helm of Doggi’s is owner Giovani Esteves, along with his brother, chef Carlos Esteves, and their mother, Yoleida Galiano. Together they moved from Venezuela to Orlando, then to Miami. They began their culinary venture in 2010 selling azquerocitos (hot dogs) from a cart called Doggi’s & More in Brickell.
“It was different,” Giovani says. “It wasn’t just any hot dog with only ketchup and mustard, not the American way. We did it the Venezuelan way, with onions, coleslaw, homemade salsa that we prepared fresh, a little potato, and Parmesan cheese.”
Doggi’s & More picked up steam, and the team began to cater events, developed a stronger menu, and eventually transitioned into brick-and-mortar territory in 2012. They kept the name Doggi’s and, of course, the hot dogs, but they’ve also expanded their menu to include salads, burgers, Venezuelan street-style sandwiches called pepitos, and the popular arepa bar, which boasts more than 23 options of cornmeal patties split in two and filled with seemingly endless combinations, ranging from savory Gouda cheese to grilled veggies.
“We use corn flour that we dissolve in water. Put some water, salt, a little bit of oil, and start working the dough,” Giovani says. “Once the dough gets to the consistency we need, we finish them on the grill to get them soft on the inside and crisp on the outside — how people love them.”
The Arepa Santa Barbara ($11.50) is the hot dish that has people talking. Chimichurri-marinated chopped churrasco, sliced avocado, tomatoes, and white shredded organic cheese are sandwiched between slices of warm arepa. “The Arepa Santa Barbara is our bestseller,” he says. “People love the size of the arepas, the fillings, the combinations, and the crispiness of them. At most places, you’re just eating the dough. But at Doggi’s, you go straight to the food, which is the meat and fillings.”
Other standout dishes include the pabellon criollo ($10.50) and tequeños ($7 for five). Pabellon criollo is a traditional Venezuelan dish with white rice, black beans, fried plantains, and shredded beef, and tequeños are fried cylinders of light and crisp pastry dough wrapped around queso fresco.
Although the menu comprises mainly quick Venezuelan bites, the folks at Doggi’s pride themselves on homemade offerings, quality service, and love for what they do. For Giovani and his team, it begins and ends with family. “It’s been three years, and we’ve seen a lot of changes, but we try to do our best every day,” he says.
Continuing Giovani’s vision of arepas dominating the food market, his second offspring — Doggi’s Arepas Bar & Bowl — is slated to open in Brickell this January. Doggi's is also expected to set up shop in early 2017 in the Miami station of the new Miami-Orlando train service, Brightline.
“A lot of people don’t know the arepa is the most famous breakfast around the world,” he says. “It’s going to be the next taco.”