""I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was blind but now I see""
-Amazing Grace, John Newton.
I doubt that Mr. Newton was referring to Venezuelan food when writing his famous hymn, but I'll be damned if it doesn't apply to my experience with Dona Maria. Yes, yes, I know I'm probably going to be struck down for saying that but then again, I've been besmirching my good name for twenty two years with nothing too terrible happening to me, so maybe I wont. I hope.
Anyways, to make a long story short, there I was, completely lost in the huge, sprawling northern suburbs of our fair city, trying to find my way back to 59 when a sign with the Venezuelan flag caught my eye. At first I saw it and kept driving. A few seconds later my brain realized that the words next to the flag read: Arepas y Empanadas. The U-turn the followed next would have shamed most professional stunt car drivers. I quickly guided my truck into the ample parking lot of the strip mall where Dona Maria is located. As soon as I stepped through the door, I knew I was going to have a good experience here. The distinct smell of Venezuelan cuisine hit me like a speeding 18-wheeler and dragged me to a place where I spent a considerable amount of my childhood: My grandmother's kitchen.
For the uninitiated, Venezuelan food is very heavily meat and cheese influenced, basically every single dish will have some sort of meat and/or cheese in it. The staple of Venezuelan food is the Arepa, which is a dough patty that is filled with your choice of meats and cheeses. The arepas here are good, better than the competition at Miguelitos. Of the almost limitless choices you have for your arepa filling I would recommend the regular ham and cheese, the ""pelua"" which is shredded beef and gouda, and the ""Reina Pepiada"", a wonderful concoction which includes chicken, avocado, and mayonnaise.
I ordered a ""Pelua"" and a ""Sifrina"", which is basically a Reina Pepiada with shredded cheese, instead of opting for the healthy baked version of the arepas, I went for the deep-fried ones. I also ordered a Cachapa, which is basically a sweetcorn pancake doubled over and filled with handmade soft white cheese called ""queso de mano"" that is only made in Venezuela. On top, you'll find a shredded, salty, hard cheese called ""queso de a?o"" which counters the sweetness of the cachapa perfectly. All this should be covered with copious amounts of butter for a real, authentic experience (healthy, huh?). To top things off, I ordered a Malta Polar. My girlfriend looked at me in a mixture of shock and disgust and proclaimed she would just eat some of what I ordered.
We sat down and were served our perfectly chilled Malta, which we blissfully enjoyed until our deep fried patties of awesomeness arrived. To say that the arepas were great would be to insult them by comparing them to lesser things. They were nothing short of epic. The Reina was some of the best I've had in my life and the meat for the Pelua was perfectly seasoned and mouthwatering. As all good things in life, they were but all too brief. Though scant time for grief was had as we were immediately presented with the Cachapa. OH MY GOD! SOMEONE ACTUALLY MAKES THEIR OWN CACHAPAS! I'm sorry for shouting, but I felt like the world needed to know this at the highest volume possible. As good as only something that is freshly made can be, the Cachapas at Dona Maria as by far the best in Houston. They were nothing short of sublime.
With all these hosannas I seem to be singing, you might ask yourself why only four stars? Well, sadly this place has no ambiance to speak of, just a counter and some tables. A little brightening up and it would be perfect.
I thought that I wasn't to ever find proper Venezuelan food in Houston, but it turned out that all I had to do was get a little lost to have a religious experience. There, I said it, now I just have to avoid thunderstorms.