Caracas Arepas (to go)
91 East7th Street
New York, NY 10009
In the Belly: Gausacasa & Plantain Chips, La Del Gato, La Mulata, Chicha
Rating: excellent food and ambience
Caracas Arepas (to go) is a cramped but cheerful spot in the East Village that serves a taste of Venezuela in its fantastically stuffed arepas, or crispy-soft corn cake sandwiches. Next door is Caracas Arepas Bar, the newer, more elegant sit-down restaurant, but we opted for the take-out joint because of the charming mural adorned walls and the alluring glow emanating from the open kitchen.
The menu at Caracas Arepas is vegetarian friendly: 6 out of the 14 arepas are vegetarian, and a little note states that tofu can be substituted for meat at any time. I found this much more accommodating than other ethnic-cuisine menus, which generally have a separate section for vegetarians stuck at the very bottom of the menu and offer just 3-4 vegetarian options out of a selection of 25. The prices won’t put an arepa-sized hole in your wallet, either- the total for our meal, which included an appetizer, two entrees, and a dessert-like drink, was about $22.
While I secured one of the five tables in the restaurant, Waqas ordered our meal at the counter. We decided on an appetizer of golden fried plantain chips and a creamy guasacaca, or Venezuelan avocado-salsa. The thick, slightly sweet plantain chips were a welcome change from the standard tortilla chip, and lightly dusted with salt, they acted as excellent dippers for the guacamole.
Behind the counter is the open kitchen and we watched as steaming balls of the soft bready filling from disc-shaped corn arepas were scooped out. Our arepas- the La Del Gato and the La Mulata- were then packed immaculately, like suitcases back from a trip to Venezuela and full of delicious happiness. La Del Gato was crispy and warm and neatly filled with slices of pale, pretty avocado, plump, buttery plantains, and a pillow of salty cheese. With squirts of the tableside sauce- a mango-garlic concoction of some sort, this suitcase full of goodies was divine. I thought La Mulata worked even better: the combination of smoky black beans, plantains, sweet red peppers, saucy jalapeños, and a sprinkling of melted cheese made for a spicy, tasty package from abroad.
Craving a sweet end to my meal, I ordered the chicha, which was described on the menu as a cinnamon-rice drink. I was expecting it to be like horchata, but while the cinnamon flavor was familiar, the consistency was not: instead of a watery-thin, refreshing drink, I was struggling to sip a heavy, gloopy shake up my straw. I guess next time I’ll have to go for the “Toddy”-a Venezuelan Chocolate Milkshake. I can’t wait!
Guasacaca and chips: $5.75; La Del Gato: $5.75; La Mulata: $5.75; Chicha: $4.75