The Place: Caracas Arepa Bar, 93 1/2 7th Street near the corner of 1st Avenue, East Village, NYC. Open everyday 12 noon to 11 PM. Take the L to 1st Ave, F/V to 2nd Ave, 6 to Astor Place, N, R to 8th Street.
The Plate: Dinner for 3, including an appetizer, sandwiches and drinks.
The Damage: Under $50 for 3 people
My love for arepas, the flat Venezuelan corn bread often served as a sandwich, goes back to my days at Coyote Grill. While their version is akin to an American pancake, “real” arepas are more savory than sweet and earn their flavor from the accompanied fillings. Enter: Caracas Arepa Bar. This East Village joint is small, but packs big flavor. After I learned Bobby Flay challenged the owner to a throwdown (the verdict: Caracas > Flay), I knew I had to see for myself.
Last night, I met a few friends (one old, one new – what can I say, I’m a Girl Scout at heart) at their East Village location. Our “30-40 minute wait” was more like 15 (it helps to befriend the host.) We sandwiched ourselves at the tiny table and dove into the menu. The selection consisted of small and larger plates with 14 arepas, 4 types of empanadas, salads, appetizers (“sidekicks”) and desserts.
We started off with drinks, skipping over their wine and beer in favor of some house cocktails ($5-7), that coincidently, included wine and beer (no liquor to be found.) I choose the tinto de verano, a fizzy Venezuelan sangria. Fruity and refreshing, it was not as sweet as traditional Spanish sangria. My friend Dan went straight for an unusual spicy beer and lemonade concoction, served in a salt-rimmed Mason jar. To round out the mix, my friend Claudia ordered a mimosa spiked with passion fruit, presumably served during their brunch hours.
For an appetizer, we shared a plate of yoyos ($5.50), fried sweet plantains balls stuffed with white cheese and served with a syrupy mollasas dipping sauce. At first bite, I was getting a distinctively french toast vibe from these yoyos, crispy and sweet with a salty kick from the cheese. After a good dose of hot sauce, these yoyos were no child’s play.
Arepa time. Served grilled and stuffed with a number of fillings, there was something for everyone. Dan’s pick: the Reina Pepiada ($6.75) brimming with chicken and avocado salad; a clear winner for this newbie to the arepa arena. Claudia chose La Surena ($7.50), complete with grilled chicken, chorizo sausage, avocado and chimi-churri sauce. No stranger to spice, this arepa brought the heat. To my delight, there were 5 vegetarian arepas. My choice? La del Gato ($6.25),a combination of Venezuelan guyanés cheese, fried sweet plantains and avocado. The cheese was soft and salty, the perfect complement to the mellow avocado and sweet plantains. With a splash of their tangy homemade hot sauce, La del Gato reached a whole new level of delicious.
Aside from a small altercation in our dinner bill, the service was friendly and quick. With another location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a slammin’ weekday lunch special (arepa+soup or salad for $7.95) and a nifty to-go operation, there will definitely be more arepas in my future.