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Scene in South Bend: Mango Café

| Thursday, November 29, 2018

Lina Domenella | The Obser

When I tell people that some of the best empanadas I’ve ever had were in South Bend, just across from Martin’s, they’re inevitably skeptical. Most people don’t think of it as a town with a wide array of ethnic food. But in defense of the Bend, I lived in Manhattan for 18 years without visiting or even seeing a Venezuelan restaurant, and I was introduced to cachapas and arepas right off campus.

On the outside, Mango Café is charmingly decorated in vibrant colors, a tropical mural complete with palm trees painted on the facade. On the inside, it’s similarly charming, but once you get a whiff from the kitchen of the slow-cooked pork and hot grilled bread, you’re unlikely to even notice the decor. A friend of mine described eating at Mango as “like eating at grandma’s house … maybe not my grandma, but a Venezuelan grandma who really knows her way around the spice cabinet.” Authentic, homemade and comforting, that sums up dinner at Mango Café.

The biggest standout on the menu is the pabellón, Venezuela’s national dish, which features plantains, black beans, white rice and shredded beef and is topped with a fried egg. Other menu items include many of the same ingredients, but combined in deliciously different ways; the cachapa is a sweet corn pancake topped with layers of soft white Venezuelan cheese and a choice of meat. While Venezuelan cuisine is known for its flavorful beef and pork, vegetarians can enjoy Mango’s fare too, with a meatless version of the pabellón among one of their best options. The menu also features versions of several American classics. Mango’s hamburger is as juicy and flavorful as any diner’s, but incorporates Venezuelan flavors with its toppings of egg, avocado and the restaurant’s signature pink sauce (a combination of ketchup, mayo and mustard).

The meals are affordable, too; the pabellón and other specials ring up at $10.75, and simpler options are even more reasonably priced. For a lighter meal, opt for the arepa, a small grilled sandwich with soft white cheese, fried egg, black beans, plantains and your choice of meat, all stuffed between white corn-based bread. If you somehow have room for dessert, you’re offered a choice between the quesillo, a creamy dessert similar to flan, and the tres leches, a decadent cake named for the “three milks” poured over its base.

You can find Mango Café at 1740 South Bend Ave., open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The restaurant is a student favorite, but is rarely crowded enough to require a wait. Perfect for a friends outing or a first date, one visit to Mango can quickly turn into a tradition.

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