New Venezuelan restaurant features saucy fair and screaming hot delicacies
Venezuela does not look like an inviting place to visit these days with its corrupt, increasingly totalitarian government under President Nicolas Maduro, its high inflation and unemployment, food shortages and violence in the streets. I’m not saying we should be consoled by the presence of a relatively new Venezuelan restaurant in our midst, but Ávila Arepa does give a taste of what you might be missing with the inaccessibility of Caracas’s food vendors.
An arepa is a glutenless flatbread made of masa flour, not completely unlike its Salvadorian cousin the pupusa but also sort of like its Mexican cousin the torta in terms of heft. And now Avila has arrived to help us make its acquaintance—or at least one of its forms, since the arepa itself can be prepared some 75 different ways. The Avila way is to pan-fry it, split it open and stuff it like a sandwich with saucy meats (or vegan imitations of same), roasted meats, possibly avocado, tomato and arugula, could be some beans and probably lotsa cheese.
The Ávila Arepa menu, gaily laid out on a chalkboard by the till, divides the bill of fare into classic and signature arepas, the latter being slightly more elaborate. There’s also a list of “sidekicks,” all different, but all fried.
There was a bit of a line-up halfway down the long, cozy dining room when we arrived early on a Thursday evening, but it seemed to move along steadily. Unfortunately the people ahead of me had ordered up all the charred sirloin for the La Trinidad arepa ($10.50), so they made me one with carne mechada (pulled beef). Co-diner had the eponymous arepa for the same price, and we ordered yuca frita ($5) and cochino frito bites ($8) to make sure we weren’t still hungry. A citrusy sugarcane beverage called papelón con limón ($3) would counter our thirst.
The yuca fritas came first in a miniature fry basket—golden brown sticks of deep-fried cassava that were crisp on the outside, fluffy within and delicious dipped in an oil-based parsley-and-garlic sauce. A similar basket bore our cochino frito bites, which were strips of pork dredged in masa flour and spices, then fried to crisped chewiness, with parsley crema for dip. Sort of like boneless ribs, but more compact, they were fine if extraneous to my enjoyment of the meal.
Next came the arepas, served with a little side of colourful slaw. As proof it had been made fresh, the golden-fried flatbread was screaming hot on the fingertips for almost the duration of the meal, wax paper notwithstanding. Co-diner’s Ávila contained slabs of roasted pork with a whack of shredded cheddar, tomato and arugula. Mine was full of tender shredded beef in a sauce of tomatoes and bell peppers redolent of garlic and cumin. Despite physically struggling with it, I found it quite tasty and more than satisfying in portion.
Our co-stars for the evening were even more concerned with getting enough to eat, because they ordered a buttload of food: three arepas (the pulled beef with handmade cheese was their favourite, I believe), some yuca frita and patacones—fried patties made from mashed green plantains that had been covered in shredded chicken, cabbage, spicy crema and parsley-garlic sauce. It was piled so high that when I tried to take a bite, the sauces went right up my nose. One co-diner opined the thick plantain patty was too big and bland for the rest of the toppings. I thought it might have gone better with beef or pork.
One of the indisputably great things about Avila Arepa is that it’s quite affordable—the price range of the entire menu is $5-$12—which makes it all the easier to explore this heretofore unknown (at least to me) comestible. I found Ávila charming, but left so stuffed that next time I’ll stick to one arepa (hopefully with charred sirloin) and skip the sides.
10760 82 Ave.