**UPDATE** As of November 22nd, 2019 - Arepas Milko has MOVED to 405 NW 13th Street in Gainesville.
If you’re driving west towards Newberry and just passed Jonesville, you may have already spotted the Arepas Milko food truck parked in a dirt lot on the northwest corner of 170th Street and Newberry Road. Not exactly a hot spot for food or anything much for that matter. But on Fridays and Saturday nights from 5 PM to 11 PM, you may have seen the long lines for Gainesville’s only taste of legit Venezuelan cuisine. And if you haven’t already stopped in, you have been missing out on a treasure.
The truck is the namesake and brainchild of Chef Milko D’Errico, who built the mobile eatery himself and runs it with his family. Despite only having been in business for a little over a month, they’ve already gained a steady following. The limited hours and out-of-the-way location are worth it for some of his delicious food. Much like Abuela’s satisfies the native South Florida in me for Colombian and Cuban food, this makes me even happier because a good arepa and patacon are two of my favorite foods. To borrow Dave Chang’s phrase (and excellent Netflix series), it’s the type of “ugly delicious” food that isn’t trying to be fancy, but hits the spot oh so wonderfully. I mean that in the most endearing way possible.
Now, most of you are already familiar with Arepas; fried or grilled corn patties served with cheese, house sauce, pink sauce, lettuce/cabbage, and a choice of meats for $5.99. Try it with pulled chicken, pernil (slow roasted pork, usually shoulder), sirloin steak, a mix of meats, or just cheese. I recommend getting them fried. But unless you’re Venezuelan or from Miami, you may not be familiar with Patacon. It is a glorious sandwich using tostones (fried plantain patties) or platanos maduros (sweet plantains) as the buns, kind of like the ol’ KFC Double Down sandwich but with plantains instead of fried chicken. For $6.99, it can be filled with the same choices as you get with the arepas. I recommend it with pernil or paying the $1 upcharge to get sirloin.
While those are the two obvious stars of the restaurant, rounding out the menu include a Venezuelan favorite of Cachapas (griddled sweet corn pancakes filled with a mozzarella-like cheese) for $7.99, Tequenos ($4.99 – giant fried cheese sticks), Pastelito de Papa con Queso ($2.25 – fried pastry filled with cheese and potatoes), Chicken Empanadas, Tequecachapas (fried sweet corn pastries filled with cheese), and a popular breakfast food (but really should be enjoyed any time) of Mandoca ($2.00 – a fried ring made of cornmeal, grated cheese, and plantain).
Basically, all the favorites are here. What may be the best strategy to take here is to go with a few friends, order everything off the menu, and share them. The portions are generous, especially for the price. Don’t try to go at it alone, there’s too much you’ll want to try, and your stomach is going to hate you for it. Despite not being in the most ideal location, they’ve really made the most of it. Latin music blasting against string lighting, friendly chatter, a few sparse outdoor benches, and a hearty basket of food in front of you almost makes you feel like you’re enjoying a meal in their native country. Just be sure to bring some bug repellent and watch out for ants.
When asked why they’re only open Fridays and Saturdays right now, the family explained that their day jobs are at the Dollar General distribution center in Alachua, and that Chef Milko’s wife has had some health problems that stem from their profession, so they’re looking to try something new. At the same time, they were hesitant because they weren’t sure if their food would be well-received in Gainesville.
Well, the food is fantastic, and you can tell they make the food with a lot of love. If there’s one thing I hope to accomplish from this write-up is to help Milko and his wife quit the Dollar General, and continue to share their talent in the kitchen with Gainesville. Go check them out this weekend! And if you’re reading this, Swamp Head and First Magnitude, give these fine folks a slot on your food truck schedule. Pretty please with an arepa on top?