Nothing says Venezuelan food more clearly than an arepa. A grilled or fried corn pocket, stuffed with avocado, beef, chicken, tuna or any other meat, cheese or vegetables, arepas are the bread and butter of Venezuelan cuisine.
Think of it as similar to an English muffin or a Mexican gordita. (Cue the complaining Venezuelans for that reference.)
I was born in Venezuela. And we joke that we’ve been fed blended arepas in our bottles since we were babies. Meaning, we eat them all the time and everywhere — at home, out with family, at friends’ sleep-overs and, yes, even at McDonald’s. It’s called the McArepa.
Venezuelan arepas, for the most part, are made with white corn P.A.N. flour and a hint of salt. They are grilled to a crisp and stuffed with basically anything, except sweets. Most spots in Palm Beach County sell the Colombian arepas de choclo, which are made from sweet yellow corn and cheese.
I embarked on a quest to find two of the most popular Venezuelan arepas locally: the Reina Pepiada (avocado and chicken) and carne mechada (shredded beef).
Here are my top five finds:
¡Ay chihuahua! I never imagined a Mexican restaurant would be selling Venezuelan-style arepas. I visited the charming spot and sure enough, arepas are the first items on the menu. And before I took a bite, I had to take, not one, but several pictures. Scroll through my Instagram gallery to see why. They’re beautiful!)
So why are El Black Bean Cafe’s arepas at the bottom of the list? They’re not bad. They’re just not authentic. I took a bite off the chicken arepa first, and as expected, it tasted like a taco — good taco meat. The beef one was the same. Simply great Mexican flavors here. Oh the plus side, the proportions were perfect, the plate looked amazing and the arepas were perfectly crispy and delicious.
What I liked: Presentation is worth a million-Instagram likes and portion was great.
What I didn’t like: The flavors are great for Mexican food but they weren’t authentic for Venezuelan cuisine. Call them gorditas and they’d get a fair fight.
4. Don Cafe Restaurant
Don Café serves an arepa that is rare to find outside your mom’s kitchen. It is fried, which takes the corn pocket to a whole new level. When you bite into it, you immediately feel the crisp shell breaking on your teeth. And then comes the soft, meaty stuffing. These come with hot sauce only.
Because fried food is crispy, these arepas have far better texture than all the rest. However, the flavors are lacking. Plus, they’re sold in pairs, either two chicken or two beef, which is annoying. As an arepa expert, I can say with authority that mixing and matching is much better.
What I liked: Fried crispy arepas beat grilled arepas any day and they’re hard to find.
What I didn’t like: You have to buy them in pairs of the same flavor (two chicken or two beef). Very inconvenient.
Address: 136 N Military Trl, West Palm Beach
Venezuela’s sister nation got it right. Delicias de la Abuela is an amazing Colombian restaurant, not Venezuelan. However, they serve stuffed arepas the same as Venezuelans. (Most Colombian restaurants offer mini un-stuffed arepas as a side.)
These arepas were delicious. The beef and cheese, La Desgreñada, could fool any Venezuelan as it tasted exactly the same. It was very dry though, but they give your more than five different sauces that immediately turn it into a moist, beefy volcano. Their version of Reina Pepiada is called La Paisana Campesina — chicken and avocado. It was a burst of flavor from a very vibrant guacamole-pico de gallo on shredded chicken. It's definitely more lively in taste than a regular Venezuelan Reina Pepiada, but it probably wouldn’t convince a Venezuelan.
What I liked: La Campesina is full of fresh flavors over warm chicken.
Thumbs down: Though the shredded beef had a great taste, it was too dry.
Doña Arepa is a sit down Venezuelan restaurant with many traditional dishes on the menu. The Reina Pepiada ($5.95) was crisp and moist with a fresh feeling to it. It was a little bland, though I’m aware that that’s the nature of this kind of arepa. The carne mechada ($5.95) was excellent with a seasoning closer to asado negro — smokey and slightly bitter. The dough on the second arepa was a bit gooey and soft, inconsistent with the first one.
One arepa is enough to fill you up. Bring someone along to go halfsies so you can try two without getting stuffed. The garlic sauce, the picante and guasacaca are excellent.
What I liked most: The shredded beef had a great seasoning.
What I didn’t like: One of the arepas needed more grill time.
Address: 3090 Jog Rd, Greenacres
Chikita’s arepas were crispy, golden and thin with flavorful stuffing. The shredded beef was juicy and placed under a layer of soft Mano cheese that dissolves easily on your palate. The Reina Pepiada (avocado-chicken) was creamy and garlicky — as it should be. These arepas weren’t too big, which is great, because you can eat two different ones, instead of a huge one.
Each arepa is $3.75 which is about half than average at most areperas (arepa places).
What I liked: Flavor authenticity and size-to-price ratios were perfect.
What I didn’t like: You’re eating on stools inside of a gas station.
There you have it. That was my top 5 restaurants in Palm Beach County which serve Venezuelan-style arepas. Though making the meat, chicken and other stuffings take some time, there are other simple things you can add to them which are quick and easy for breakfast: fried eggs, bacon, cheese and ham. Treat it like a sandwich and stuff as you like. Let me know if you’d like me to do a Facebook live and teach you how to make some. I already made one before, but it was in Spanish. Take a look:
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