Caraqueña: Michelle’s Amazing Venezuelan Kitchen

Michelle Rossington brings Venezuelan flavors to SW Oak and 5th.

By Laura Klairmont August 18, 2009 Published in the September 2009 issue of Portland Monthly

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Michelle’s Plate features a rotating array of specials and side items.

On most days, adventurous diners can wander down to the busy corner of SW Oak Street and Fifth Avenue and choose from a dizzying assortment of lunch items: Mediterranean gyros, Thai curries, Czech schnitzels. In May, Caraqueña: Michelle’s Amazing Venezuelan Kitchen began carving out its own place in downtown’s burgeoning cluster of food carts, serving traditional Venezuelan dishes infused with local ingredients. Now, Caraqueña draws a crowd of regulars who queue up daily to sample owner Michelle Rossington’s family recipes—with a touch of Northwest reinvention.

Refined cornmeal cakes called arepas and empanadas made from buttery dough are the foundations of Rossington’s small but ever-changing menu. Both the flaky empanadas and the delicate arepas, which Rossington learned to make while growing up in Venezuela, are filled with her own inventive concoctions. Try traditional empanadas stuffed with red bell peppers and sweet shredded beef, or a filling with a Northwest twist: local marionberries and cream cheese. A dish of sweet plantains, topped with sharp cheddar cheese and sandwiched between two arepas, exemplifies Rossington’s fondness for combining sweet and savory flavors. You can order each item à la carte or in a combination plate served with a choice of two sides (such as black beans and rice or fried plantains topped with a tangy horseradish aioli). Can’t decide? Take a chance on Michelle’s Plate, a platter of whatever Rossington feels like combining that day. Risky? Maybe. But never disappointing.