Scene in South Bend: Mango Café
Marc Drake | Thursday, November 6, 2014
Although Mango Café is located at 1740 South Bend Ave., patrons will be just as likely to think they are next to the beach somewhere in the Caribbean nation of Venezuela. “Mango is a very popular fruit in Venezuela, because it grows over there,” said owner Guillermo Mendez on the naming of the restaurant. “You think of a mango and you think ‘exotic.’ I was trying to be tropical and Caribbean, make you think of South America.” With brightly colored orange walls lined by numerous plants, the restaurant certainly evokes images of a tropical paradise. Run by the five members of the Mendez family, Mango Café represents a connection to home for a family that chose to leave their native country.
With the rise to power of Hugo Chávez, Guillermo Mendez and his family sought political refuge in the United States when they left Venezuela in 1999. “We left right before Chavez took over in 2000. We knew it was going to go downhill. Right before that, we got everything ready and met up with family that had been living here,” Mendez said about the decision to leave his native country. Despite the political situation, in the country that forced the family to move to the United States, he describes the local Venezuelan community as very supportive of the restaurant. “There really is a huge Venezuelan population in the area, I was surprised,” said Rene Mendez, Guillermo’s wife.
“I know a lot of people, but there have still been a lot of people I’ve never seen in my life. They all say good things about the food though,” Guillermo Mendez said.
Despite the large Venezuelan population in the area, the Mendez family claims the success of the restaurant crosses cultural lines. “There have been a lot of Hispanic students [from Notre Dame],” Guillermo said.
“I feel like it’s been more Americans though. We have had a lot of Venezuelans, but I feel absolutely way more Americans, especially around lunchtime,” Rene said.
A relative newcomer to Venezuelan food, I decided to try it for myself. After several minutes of wavering between various menu items, I finally decided on the Dominó arepa, a traditional Venezuelan dish made of ground corn dough and filled with assorted items, in this case beans and cheese. At $3, I was shocked with how much food I received and was forced to resist the urge to buy several more arepas. As delicious as the main course was, for me the real star of the show was one of the sides that I decided to order: the plantains. As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the banana variant, I knew immediately that I had to try the fried plantains, and I was not disappointed. Covered in a delicious cream sauce and white Venezuelan cheese, this delicious dessert item had a distinctly Venezuelan twist to an already tasty food. In addition to arepas and empanadas, pabellón is one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant. Made up of rice, black beans, beef and fried egg, the dish is considered to be the national dish of Venezuela by many. “We could eat it everyday and never get sick of it,” Mendez said proudly as he described the ingredients of the dish.
Featuring a variety of other dishes and sides, the restaurant offers something for everyone, from people who grew up eating Venezuelan cuisine to those who are trying it for the first time. With a menu offering numerous delicious items, the restaurant definitely will keep you coming back for more. For those who aren’t sold by the entrees, delicious desserts such as the fried plantains will have you returning time and time again.