Not long after starting work in NYC, I was invited to go to dinner with coworkers. One of my coworkers, Andres, who has remained a friend long since he moved to a different division, is from Columbia and wanted to take a bunch of us out for Arepas. An arepa is essentially a corn tortilla stuffed with whatever you want and, might I add, they are delicious. Although traditionally Venezuelan, he grew up eating them regularly and knows the best arepas in the city. We went to Arepas Cafe in Astoria for my first arepa experience and I haven’t stopped praising them since. After this dinner, every time my group of work friends goes out for a meal, we always go for arepas. It has become our tradition (partially due to a gluten allergy in the group so FYI to all you gluten free people, amazing food and won’t land you in the hospital) and one I would never protest.
If there is one good thing about leaving Manhattan for food, it is that even if the place is extremely popular, you’ll probably still have a reasonably short time waiting to be seated (unless you are Grimaldi’s). It’s also fortunate that my coworker is friends with the owner, speaks the language, and girlfriend worked there at the time, but that’s beside the point. We were seated immediately, scoped out the menu, and proceeded to order. For appetizers, the Tequenos are delicious because it’s fried cheese so if you like mozz sticks, it’s a more heavenly version of them, and if you don’t…wait there’s no such person. We also ordered Cachapas, which are corn pancakes with melted cheese. Both dishes are musts here and Arepas Cafe has two amazing sauces sitting on the table that go great slathered on all appetizers and arepas alike.
Next it was arepa time. You honestly cannot go wrong with your arepa selection but I will say one of my favorites is the Reina. It contains chicken, avocado, and a little mayo, and I usually like to add white cheese. One of the sauces at Arepas Cafe, which we all refer to as the “green sauce” goes great with it. I have since been back to Arepas Cafe a few times and it remains my favorite.
The second place we ventured for arepas is called El Cocotero and is on West 18th street. We continued our ordering habits of Tequenos and Cachapas, followed by Arepas. While El Cocotero is by all means delicious, this experience probably stands out the least for me of the 3 places I habe been. I have heard that El Cocotero is better for other types of Venezuelan food, but sadly the desire for an arepa is often too strong to branch out.
Although its not one of the three restaurants I have been for arepas, I will say that you can often find mozzarella arepas at the street fairs around New York and they make for a good cheap snack while people watching.
This brings me to last night. For a great Arepa within Manhattan, there exists a little place in the East Village called Caracas Arepa Bar. By little, I mean physically small and known by all, so expect a wait. They don’t take reservations and they have a hard time seating groups greater than 4. We had a group of 5 last night and what we were told would be a 25 minute wait extended over an hour. Although it was worth it, I would suggest coming here in small groups or just with a friend. They do have a To Go location next door if the line looks absurd and you don’t mind taking your food elsewhere. They also have a much larger Brooklyn location that does take reservations, so if you feel brave enough to battle the Hipsters, Godspeed. We ordered tequenos again but they didn’t have cachapas(devastating), so we went with Tejadas, which are fried sweet plaintains with salty cheese. I was a bit skeptical but they came with a sweet dipping sauce that almost tasted like real maple syrup and it was a great combo, although they might be even better sans sauce.
Emily and I then split 3 arepas between the two of us. The leek and sun dried tomato arepa was good, but the beef and chicken options we had were definitely better. My personal favorite of the night, La Surena, had chicken, chorizo, avocado, and spicy chimi-churry sauce. Caracas also has a sauce on the table that was spicy and definitely added some good flavor, however, we asked if they had green sauce and ended up with chips and guac (this was a pretty good starter for the record, just not expected).
While this meal was fantastic and I would definitely return, I would probably opt for the To Go option (start taking reservations ya dum dums). The best overall experience for me is Arepas Cafe if for no other reason than that green sauce. For the record I think it is cilantro and a few other basic ingredients but I am not sure. While I’m often an island snob, great food is worth heading to the outer boroughs, as is the case here.
P.S. Sorry for the lack of pics but my arepa days precede my blogging days.
And now you have all experienced that I can rant for way too long about arepas. Although most of you are already accustomed to my way too long rants about many other things, so I’ll shut up now.