Along Sepulveda Boulevard, past the Van Nuys Petco, one of LA’s priceless rows of mini food trucks meets almost every night. This is where Birrieria Villalobos, specialist in birria de res, a teppanyaki truck, a Yucatan taco spot and a pretty red trailer with blue and yellow signage displaying the three colors of the Colombian flag line up to serve food. street food to the inhabitants of the valley. The main attraction of Colombian truck, Vivi’s Gourmet Cuisine, is arepa rellena, a stuffed arepa. Arepas are an indigenous meal made from cornmeal (usually pre-cooked cornmeal), comparable to Mexicana Gorditas and Pupusas. They are essential to Venezuelan and Colombian cuisines, although regional versions can be found in Puerto Rico, Panama, and the Canary Islands.
Hailing from Cali, Colombia, Viviana “Vivi” Henriquez opened Vivi’s Gourmet Cuisine five years ago at the Northridge Farmers Market. In the months leading up to the pandemic, she moved into a trailer, initially bringing together a loyal following of Venezuelans and Colombians.
“I had worked as a cook at the Lakeside Cafe in Encino, then at the Cheesecake Factory where I worked long hours and came home exhausted. I told myself if I had to work this hard, I might as well do it for myself, ”says Henriquez. She enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Los Angeles Mission College in Sylmar, and after two years in school, a friend had an idea. “A Colombian classmate suggested that I start small, organizing community events, catering, which led me to the Northridge Farmers Market,” she says. At first, Henriquez had to donate arepas because they are so rare in LA. Arepas are foreigners even to Latinos who know and love Gorditas and Pupusas.
Having won the trust of hesitant diners, Henriquez and her husband found a trailer to make their operation more mobile, dedicating it to the arepa rellena filled with traditional Cali recipes. The arepa de pollo is filled with grated chicken seasoned with triquisar, a popular Colombian seasoning blend, and is tinged yellow from a little food coloring (which is common in Colombia). It is finished with melted cheese and cilantro sauce. Arepa chicharrón contains diced fried squares of crackling and cheese, while the beef, called carne desmechada in Colombia, is simmered in spices, a little tomato, onion and garlic before being stuffed. in split arepas. “I cook the corn myself and grind the corn into a paste,” says Henriquez. For drinking, try pairing arepas with super sweet gaseosas, Colombian sodas, such as Postobon Manzana and Colombiana.
The trailer operates in Van Nuys, Reseda, Canoga Park and Long Beach on different days with a concise menu of arepa rellenas, Colombian hot dogs, burgers, empanadas, chorizo and finally dedo de queso (cheese sticks), an article Venezuelans take very seriously. In Venezuela, they are called tequeños. “In Long Beach, we get a lot of Venezuelans for the arepas, but even more for the cheese sticks,” says David Muñoz, Vivi’s husband and partner, who pairs the cheese sticks with a sweet pineapple sauce. There are five sauces on the truck: pineapple, cilantro, salsa rosada (mayo and ketchup), and mustard, all of which are essential in Colombian hot dogs and burgers.
Instead of a Colombian pan perro, which isn’t available here, Vivi uses a locally made bun for her hot dogs and heaps of onions, lettuce, tomato, crispy ground bacon, and ripio de papa (French fries stick) covered with the five sauces. The burger is dressed the same. There are few places dedicated to arepa, let alone go as far as Henriquez goes for its satisfying arepas rellenas, hot dogs and Colombian snacks, making it worth finding this food trailer at work.
Vivi’s Gourmet Cuisine weekly schedule is posted on Facebook and Instagram.