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Venezuelan charm: Cacho’s Bistro at Sawmill Market excels at South American specialties

A selection of Cacho’s Bistro’s Venezuelan baked goods, clockwise from bottom left: cachito with guava and cream cheese, tequeño and cachito with ham and cheddar cheese. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

Sawmill Market’s short life has been like a roller-coaster ride over an active volcano.

The food emporium near Old Town opened to much fanfare in March, just before the governor restricted restaurants to takeout and patio dining. It sputtered along for a while on takeout only before closing completely. Now, it’s back from oblivion, just in time for the dog days of summer.

Despite the on-again, off-again rollout, people are finding their way to the restored lumberyard across from Hotel Chaco, if a recent Saturday evening is any indication. The gravel lot on the south side of the building was almost full, and there were about 50 people sitting at tables on the large patio behind the market. Everyone was wearing a mask, and an attendant monitored the entrance, ready to close the doors as soon as the 50% capacity on the patio was reached.

It’s easy to see the attraction. The market is impressive in both the variety of its vendors and design of its space. Lots of pale wood, natural light and plants take the dystopian edge off the industrial-style interior. There’s something of interest around every corner, from the domelike oven decorated with fiery red tiles inside Hawt Pizza to the bar at Paxton’s Taproom made out of leftover wood from the old lumberyard. Outlets of established operations such as Eldora Chocolate share the space with new ventures.

Notable among the latter is Cacho’s Bistro, the self-described “best Venezuelan bistro in Albuquerque.” Also, to my knowledge, the only Venezuelan bistro in Albuquerque.

Ronsuelvic Cavalieri, Cacho’s Bistro owner and guiding hand, got her start at the Rail Yards before locking down a spot at Sawmill.

Cacho’s Bistro showcases the Venezuelan penchant for cooking meats, cheeses and other fillings inside bread and pastry. There are familiar items, such as empanadas and arepas, alongside less common dishes such as cheese-filled breadsticks known as tequeños and cachapas, corn pancakes folded around various fillings. Almost everything on the menu is less than $10.

Stuffed crescents rolls called cachitos lead off the menu. The ham and cheddar version ($7) is what Hot Pockets aspires to be: A shell of fresh, buttery bread and thin slices of tender ham around a core of melted cheese.

It pairs well with a guava and cream cheese cachito ($7), the tangy, thick cream cheese complementing the sweet jelly.

Cachos Bistros empanadas are available with shredded beef and green chile, left, and cubed chicken with chile. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

Cavalieri’s skills transform the familiar empanada into something of a revelation. The beef and cheddar green chile empanada ($5.50) matches shredded beef with sharp melted cheese spiked with green chile. The ingredients are well balanced with a noticeable amount of heat from the chile, but the empanada really shines. It’s flaky and firm and holds up to the filling. After I finished it, I found myself wishing that I had bought about a dozen more.

The chicken and green chile empananda ($5.50) was a similarly successful flavor combination that I would have enjoyed more had the chicken been shredded instead of diced.

The chicken was shredded in the arepa ($9), a sandwich made with thin corn cakes instead of bread. The corn cakes, roughly the circumference of a hamburger bun, were well executed, with a crisp shell and a warm, doughy center. The copious pile of shredded chicken with carrots and cilantro had the flavor profile of a bowl of chicken soup. It’s a first-rate sandwich.

In the zucchini arepa ($9), the corn cakes struggle to contain a heaping serving of diced zucchini. Skip it, unless you really, really like zucchini.

Tequeños ($4), named for a town in Venezuela, are cigar-sized stalks of flaky bread wrapped in a spiral fashion around white cheese and served with two hot, vinegary salsas – one green, one red. Good stuff, but priced a little high.

Cacho’s also offers two dishes based around shredded beef or chicken with sides of arepas, sweet plantains and fried eggs. For dessert, they make a decent flan ($4) served for takeout in an aluminum foil ramekin with lots of burnt caramel syrup at the bottom.

Ordering at Cacho’s Bistro by phone was trouble-free, and the person answering the phone was able to iron out the inconsistencies among the online menus. A server will bring the food out to your car if you don’t want to venture into the market.

Cacho’s Bistro is another successful transplant from the Rail Yards market and a great addition to Albuquerque’s South and Central American dining scene.