Restaurants in Chicago come and go. Some have long lives and there are others that stay in business for a short time. One restaurant I recently found out had closed its doors was a Venezuelan restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois. With them being one of my favourite restaurants in Oak Park, I was a bit down to have discovered the news. So, I was rather quick looking for other Venezuelan restaurants in Chicago. As luck would have it, one named Bien Me Sabe recently opened in East Lakeview at 1637 W. Montrose Avenue in place of what was once an Ecuadorian restaurant.
With this first visit, I opted for something that I had not had before at any Venezuelan restaurant. Based on a few street food items that some of my Venezuelan friends have prepared and shared, I ordered tequeños. As I remembered, they were authentic. These came with a side of ketchup and a side of mayonnaise that was doctored up almost with the taste of tartar sauce. I omitted the condiments and devoured the stuffed cheese sticks to completion.
The second appetizer was a platter of tostones. Instead of them coming with a dipping sauce prepared of ketchup, mayonnaise, and garlic, the tostones had been topped with shredded cheese and drizzled with ketchup and mayonnaise. While this was a tasty combination, I became a bit more ravenous when I removed the ketchup and mayonnaise from atop of the tostones. The cuajada cheese alone on them made them extremely appetizing.
Now, you cannot go to a Venezuelan restaurant and not have an arepa sandwich. One I had never eaten before was a pabellon. Outstanding. It reminded me a lot of Cuban ropa vieja sandwiches. The shredded beef seasoned well in a light tomato sauce, the plump plantains, and the cuajada cheese between homemade arepa left a lasting impression on me that I can only overshadow by returning and ordering a different arepa sandwich.
Bien Me Sabe is a spacious restaurant that still has a quaint feel to it. That’s mostly because the service lends an “at home” atmosphere. I admit that I miss the Venezuelan restaurant that was in Oak Park, but I’m glad that Bien Me Sabe opened its doors for business. I certainly hope that they have a long shelf life because authentic Venezuelan food is hard to find in Chicago.