Mil Jugos serves much more than 1,000 possible juices and provides so much more.
Situated in downtown Santa Ana, a block from the bridal shops and churro carts, resides “the best and only Venezuelan home cooking in town.” Norah Briceño runs the vibrant café with her mother Solange, who makes everything from scratch. Norah owned a restaurant by the same name in Maracay from 1996 to 2000, but the country’s political environment became stifling after Hugo Chavez took power in 1998. As a result, they immigrated to Orange County in 2000, joining Norah’s sister. Mother and daughter opened Mil Jugos in June 2003.
Mil Jugos features yellow walls, lively Venezuelan music, dioramas and guitars affixed to walls, and a faux parrot on a perch.
Jugos draw from a fridge full of fresh fruits. While the menu lists just 22 fruits, mixing and matching yields well over 1,000 possible combinations. Juices incorporate familiar fruits like apples, bananas, oranges and strawberries, plus more uncommon offerings like chicha (fermented corn), guanabana and tizana (a fruit mixture).
Based on Solange’s recommendations, we ordered small cups of pineapple and papaya juice ($3) and guanabana juice ($3). Surprisingly, we received ice-blended fruit smoothies instead of juices. Turns out people refer to all fruit beverages as jugos in Venezuela, even blended ones. Pineapple and papaya was silky sweet, and guanabana (aka soursop) was mild and custardy.
Arepas are grilled masa pockets cooked in molds, unsweetened, filled with ingredients like sliced eye of round cooked with wine and brown sugar or chicken potato salad with avocado. Solange recommended The Pabellon ($3.75) – carne desmechada (shredded beef cooked with garlic, tomatoes, onions and red bell pepper), black beans and freshly grated white cheese (cotija). The pocket was served with a squeeze-bottle of guasacaca, sauce made from blended garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and vinegar.
We were dazzled by Cachapa Con Queso Blanco ($5), a moist sweet corn pancake folded over a soft slab of sweet white cheese (queso blanco) and fresh cream. Cachapas were also available filled with shredded pork, shredded beef, or sliced ham, but it’s hard to imagine a version besting this simple wonder.
Norah noted that arepas and cachapas are considered fast food in Venezuela, items to be eaten on the street after a night out at the clubs.
Mil Jugos normally offers several homemade desserts, but since we arrived just before closing, they’d sold out of quesillo (similar to flan), tres leches cake and a papaya confection.
Before we left, Norah pulled a plate from the fridge that held a big ball of what looked like orange wax. It was congealed cow fat. She wanted us to know what wasn’t making its way in to her customer’s food. Turns out my stomach benefited even more than I knew from Mil Jugos.