My Pork Belly Future

Mi Pueblito is a restaurant for Colombians who miss home, but gringos will still enjoy its fare -- especially the chewy pork bits

There are seven arepa dishes on the appetizer list. I skipped them all and tried the picada para dos, a giant sampler plate for two with chicharrones, well-done steak, gristly chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), candy-sweet fried plantains, starchy fried yucca and delightful little round Colombian yellow potatoes. The morcilla looked and tasted like black boudin. And as usual, I ended up eating all of the chicharrones because my dining companion didn't want any.

After my milk soup breakfast, I get a refill on coffee. Mi Pueblito brews Sello Rojo coffee, an imported Colombian brand. While I sip it, I consider my surroundings. The restaurant is decorated with Colombian memorabilia and an eye-popping orange-and-blue color scheme. In the parking lot out front, there's an old school bus painted in bright colors with the name of the restaurant and slogans about Colombia and the United States all over it. On top of the bus, in a little wooden enclosure, cartoon cutouts of grinning passengers sit beside baskets of plastic produce. Buses like this are the main form of transportation for people out in the Colombian countryside, the waitress says. She is from Bogotá and has been in Houston for about a year.

Mi Pueblito's picada para dos comes with 
sausage, plantains, yucca and steak -- but nothing 
compares to its fried pork bellies.
Troy Fields
Mi Pueblito's picada para dos comes with sausage, plantains, yucca and steak -- but nothing compares to its fried pork bellies.

Location Info


Mi Pueblito

9425 Richmond
Houston, TX 77057

Category: Restaurant > South American

Region: Galleria


Changua: $3.50
Bandeja paisa: $6.45
Churrasco: $10.95
Picada para dos: $8
Trout a la plancha: $10.50
9425 Richmond, 713-334-4594. Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

There is also a cute little cartoon character adorning the restaurant's signage and menu. He's a man with a round face wearing a big hat and carrying what I first thought was a fishing pole. With him is an adoring donkey bearing sacks of coffee. On closer inspection, I realize the fishing pole is actually a whip -- which makes me wonder why the donkey is so happy.

Is this some character from Colombian folklore, like our Johnny Appleseed or Pecos Bill? I ask the waitress if he has a name. "Juan Valdez," she says without hesitation. "See, his face is a coffee bean," she explains in Spanish, pointing to the rounded features of the little man's head.

Juan Valdez was created in 1959 by the American advertising agency Doyle Dane & Bernbach for the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia. While Señor Valdez is one of the most successful advertising images ever created, he's a curious choice of national image for Colombia. I suppose he's better than cocaine trafficker Pablo Escobar -- but not by much.

I call Barry Mehler, a professor of history at Ferris State University and the director of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism, and ask him what he thinks of old Juan. "What a symbol," says Mehler. "Here's a guy whose only goal in life is to pick perfect coffee beans for the Americans. It's a great example of how we turn abject poverty into an idealized image to make us feel better. It's also a perversion of what's really happening. Colombian coffee plantations exploit desperately poor people. Nothing could be more obscene than the commercial transformation of this exploitation into the idyllic vision of Juan Valdez."

While the cheerful coffee picker with his donkey may be an odd symbol for the nation of Colombia, it's perfectly appropriate for Mi Pueblito Restaurant. With its rural bus full of cartoon characters out front, its bright shopping-center interior and its platos típicos, Mi Pueblito offers just the sort of simple, sunny nostalgia that homesick Colombians crave. And for us gringos, it's still not a bad spot for feasting on juicy churrasco and bacon-flavored pork bellies.

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