A big hole in Tucson’s culinary landscape is now filled with the recent entry of Ricuras de Venezuela Arepas & More into the area’s burgeoning food truck scene.
On New Year’s Eve, Marlene and Steve Baquet became the first to exclusively serve Venezuelan food when they put the truck into action. They parked behind Hotel Congress and stayed there into the wee hours, having to turn customers away well after their anticipated 3 a.m. closing time, Marlene said.
“Believe me we had to say ‘OK bye.’ We had so many people keep coming,” said Marlene, who moved to Tucson 20 years ago with her mother from their native Venezuela to be close to her sister.
Ricuras de Venezuela is now a permanent weekend fixture downtown. From 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, they serve fresh-made arepas ($6 to $7) stuffed with carne mechada — shredded beef — chicken and mashed vegetables, and savory empanadas stuffed with ground and shredded beef from their spot behind Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.
The menu also includes K’chapas ($4) — think pancakes — filled with sweet corn and melty cheese, and the traditional banana leaf-wrapped Venezuelan tamales — called hallacas ($7).
The family operates the truck from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays in front of their ABC Insurance office at 890 W. Grant Road, where the Baquets sell insurance and operate a tax preparation business. Marlene Baquet prepares the food at a south-side commissary in the mornings and has a staff operate the truck.
In the six weeks since rolling out, the family business has taken off in ways that Marlene Baquet said was almost inconceivable when they started. The carne machada has become their most popular seller.
“When we started we were going through 15 pounds a week; now we are at 70 pounds,” she said.
Steve Baquet said the couple searched nearly a year before finding the food truck in Sinaloa, Mexico. The idea for a food truck was inspired by Marlene’s mother, who died last May.
“My mom wanted to have a food truck. She said we needed to sell arepas, a flat bread. But I was taking care of my business and other stuff. So I was like, ‘OK , we’ll do it. We’ll do it’,” she said, noting that she uses her mother’s recipes. After her mother died, “I felt like I owed it to her.”
The Baquets have a lock on the Venezuelan food market in Tucson. There are no other restaurants here devoted to the cuisine.