To call this restaurant merely an arepas place would sell it short. Viva Las Arepas makes some of the finest wood-grilled meats anywhere. You could have a great meal here without even exploring the arepas menu. The meats, so deeply infused with mesquite smoke, are more robust than in many highly-regarded BBQs.
The arepas are mostly based around mesquite grilled chicken or beef. A grilled beef version comes stretched wide, full of carne asada-like chunks of beef dressed only with iceberg lettuce and slices of tomato. It resembles a backyard BBQ burger, especially when you added a squirt of mayonnaise-based cilantro-avocado sauce. The Rubenesque street-cart style reina pepiada (curvy queen) arepa sees the chicken fully dressed in this green mayo. The resulting looks like chicken salad, but the smoky flavor of the chicken takes it to new heights. Being a cold sandwich, this one is particularly right for the many months of the year that Las Vegas is hazardously hot.
The white corn arepas themselves are well made: crunchy on the outside and doughy in the middle. Unlike corn bread, they are more a bun-like vehicle for rich fillings. Those seeking a more corn-flavored experience should go for the cachapa, which is made with sweet yellow corn and studded with fresh corn kernels. It’s filled with a soft mozzerella-like cheese and a salty farmer’s cheese similar to Cotija. The sweet salty, gooey pocket is like what you might have had at a street fair arepa cart; but this fresh, hot version will ruin those greasy abominations forevermore.
Wood-fired chicken reveals charred corners, a pink smoke ring, and juicy meat. It comes with black beans that are halfway between whole and refried, with just enough starchy liquid to keep the full beans set into a stew-like texture. Their flavor is subtly smoky and meaty, something like tropical charro beans.
A few fried snacks are available for the less peckish. Oniony empanadas are fried to order to a nice crisp. Desserts include a coconut and cheese pastelito, which is very much like a beignet filled with soft, sweet cheese and shredded coconut. It brought back memories of our trips to Caribbean islands, where fried food and tropical fruit abound. It is a delicious donut, but like all the food here, it is large and starchy and demands a very healthy appetite.