Toronto may have a plethora of taco joints but as for Latin American food south of the Mexican border? Few and far between. Needless to say, I have been waiting to have good Venezuelan food for a very, very long time. What better place than at the Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village in Manhattan?
Starting off with the Papelón con limón, which is a refreshing mix of dehydrated sugarcane and lime, I settled in to absorb the eclectic and vibrant lunchtime crowd.
The menu is overflowing with mouth-watering choices. We decided to go for the lunchtime special of any arepa from the menu and a choice of soup or salad. The soup of the day was a creamy medley of roasted corn so we both left the mixed salad alone and went for a bowl of the good stuff. How adorable are the bowls, by the way?
We also indulged in some guacamole (or guasacaca) and chips. There is nothing that can appetize like some good guac, except maybe for guac served with house made plantain and yucca/taro chips. It was truly fantastic.
And finally, the moment I had been waiting years for finally arrived…my first arepa. Every culture has its version of some starchy pouch stuffed with meat and/or other delicious filling, and the arepa is the Venezuelan contribution. I would take this over a hot dog or a measly burrito any day.
In its most very basic form, the arepa is a thin corn cake that is baked and grilled to a light golden colour and sliced down the middle to expose a soft pillowy interior. You can eat them on their own, with a nice slice of queso fresco(fresh cheese) or stuffed with a variety of different ingredients. I think one of the geniuses of this pouch is that, unlike its counterparts, the hard/soft structure of the corn cake both absorbs sauce and yet, seals it in so you don’t have any liquid seeping through. Liquid dripping down your hands is another story!
I went for a Caracas classic called De Pabellón, an arepa stuffed with shredded beef, black beans, plantains and salty cheese (pictured above). Julian went back to his vegetarian roots by ordering the Leek Jardinera, which had a filling of sautéed leeks, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized tomatoes and guayanés cheese. Do not underestimate the density of the little arepa by its circumference–those things are mighty!
There are so many things about this restaurant that made me really happy. To add to an already great review, the whole meal was gluten-free (like almost all things on their menu) and they have appropriate vegetarian alternatives for almost every dish. If you just want an arepa to go, they also run a spot right beside the Manhattan location that is literally called “Arepa to Go”. And if you live in Brooklyn, they even have a delivery service! If only they were willing to deliver to the Great North…
Location: East Village, Manhattan, NYC
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