Charlotte has plenty of Mexican restaurants, but the stretch of South Boulevard between Woodlawn and Arrowood roads has emerged as one of the city’s hubs for authentic food from all over Latin America: Cuba, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, and, now, Venezuela. Los Chamos, which opened in September, serves traditional Venezuelan dishes and street foods with some fusion and international flavors.
Central American dishes typically make use of regional ingredients like yucca, palm flower, and plantains. So what distinguishes Venezuelan cuisine? Staples like corn, rice, and beans anchor most meals; the most common item is arepas, or cornmeal cakes, served with almost anything. The Venezuelan version is typically smaller and thicker than Colombia’s and uses just three main ingredients: corn flour, water, and a pinch of salt. Venezuelan cuisine is also heavy on queso blanco, or white cheese, with names based on its regional varieties.
Chamos is slang for “bros” or “dudes” in Spanish, and it fits the playful, anything-goes aesthetic of the restaurant. The exterior is nothing special—it sits between a Webtax and a chiropractor in a nondescript strip mall—but the renovated interior is dressed up with living plant walls, a live edge bar top, and neon signs with messages like “all you need is love.” Each table has a roll of paper towels (street food can get messy), and refrigerators along the back wall have Venezuelan cheeses, sauces, drinks, and grab-and-go meals for purchase. Flat-screen TVs hang above the six-seat bar, and reggae covers of pop songs play in the background.
Ecuadorian chef Esteban Moncayo created the menu, which is printed on four pages of copy paper stapled together. Dishes are all listed in Spanish but have English descriptions below. If you need a visual, just look at the flat-screen closest to the entrance; it displays images of each menu item on a loop.
Drinks include Papelón (similar to sweet tea); Chicha (a rice-based drink); and a rotation of juices like mango, blackberry, and passion fruit. They also serve Malta Polar, a nonalcoholic malt beverage that’s popular in Venezuela.
If you have kids in tow (or you just dig kid-friendly finger food), start with the Tequeños ($8.99), three breadsticks stuffed with cheese. Empanadas ($4.49) come one to an order with a choice of beef or pulled chicken and a side of guasacaca, Venezuela’s version of guacamole. Just be careful if you plan to get a full entrée, too, because those empanadas are more filling than they look. The Pork Belly Arepas ($15.99) include six cornmeal cakes stuffed with Asian pork belly, garlic mayo, and shredded cucumbers and carrots—order these when you come with a large group.
For the most authentic flavors on one plate, order the Pabellón ($19.49), the national dish of Venezuela, which includes shredded beef, white rice, black beans, and fried sweet plantains. Pepitos (sandwiches) include Ribeye ($17.99) and Parrillero ($15.99), which is like Venezuelan barbecue. You can also get a Venezuelan Burger ($14.99), a half-pound of beef piled with bacon, lettuce, tomato, ham, onions, and garlic cilantro sauce.
If you came for the street food, ordering the Patacon ($14.49) is the correct move. You get two (two!) sandwiches with fried plantain slices in place of bread, loaded with shredded skirt steak, coleslaw, and a swipe of guasacaca. No shame if you can’t finish both; just take the second one home for an encore.
If Spanish isn’t your first language, don’t let that deter you. Servers can translate anything you don’t recognize, and the sauces and spices don’t bulldoze your taste buds. Kids are almost guaranteed to find something they enjoy (who doesn’t like a fried breaded cheese stick?), and paper towels are within arm’s reach when you need them. If you tried something you like, peruse the refrigerators and bring a taste of Venezuela home with you.
Just don’t forget to snap a picture between the neon angel wings on your way out.
TAYLOR BOWLER is the lifestyle editor.
7001 South Blvd.
11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday