Planted in the thick of an area swarming with burger, taco and pizza joints, Sol de Luna may seem like an anomaly, like it doesn’t quite belong here on University Drive, right across the street from TCU. Pepitos don’t exactly spring to mind whenever you think of college food.
Yet that’s the allure of 25-year-old TCU grad Frank Sigala’s first restaurant: There’s nothing else in the area quite like it. Opened in August, Sol de Luna serves a fusion of Venezuelan and Mexican food, with an emphasis on the former.
It takes over the space occupied by Tex-Mex fast casual spot Red Cactus. Sigala spruced it up, adding coats of lime green paint, cool light fixtures, a high-dollar Simonelli espresso machine and a colorful chalkboard with descriptions of each dish. The fast-casual concept remains, and while some of the food is pre-made and stored in chafing dishes, much of it is made on the spot.
The menu is sort of a greatest hits of basic Venezuelan food — arepas, tostones and empanadas — done well, with a touch of flair.
A good example: a chicken and avocado arepa ($3.20). The dish consisted of shredded chicken, onions and mashed avocado stuffed into a warm, folded flatbread, similar to a wrap or taco. With a chewy texture and browned edges that made it obvious it had spent some time on the grill, the flatbread was instantly likable. But the star of this dish was the tiny ramekin of housemade corn sauce, which offered a touch of sweetness.
Tostones ($4.50) — fried plantain slices — were nicely done, too. Four came to an order, each sprayed with a zig-zag of sour cream and topped with fresh cilantro and queso fresco crumbles. Each bite started with a hearty crunch and ended on a soft note, as the pillowy texture and slightly sweet flavor of the plantain came through.
A dish that didn’t quite seem to work was the chabella salad ($6.50), a mountain of iceberg lettuce, corn, shredded carrots and thinly sliced chicken fajita meat. The chicken had a pleasing smokiness to it, and the thick, mustard-based dressing offered a sweet-spicy bite. But there was an odd ingredient: nacho cheese Dorito’s. It was an amusing touch, but distracted from an otherwise good salad.
The restaurant’s signature item is the pepito ($7.80), a monstrously large sandwich served on long planks of toasted and buttered French bread; it’s akin to a Philly cheesesteak, minus the cheese. You can order it with pork, chicken or steak filling. Can’t go wrong with the pulled pork, cooked eight to 10 hours; it was as spicy as it was addicting — the more you ate, the more you wish you could stop. We finished the whole thing.