I am throwing down the gauntlet and declaring that Arepas Cafe in Astoria, Queens, makes my favorite arepas in New York City, a city full of legendarily delicious arepas.
For those unfamiliar, arepas are made with a corn flour and kneaded into patty-like shape, cooked, and filled with meat, cheese, and other fillings. To me, the taste of the bread is just as important what goes inside. Arepas Cafe makes Venezuelan arepas, although arepas can be found in many other countries in Central and South America.
My favorite here is the Pelúa Arepa, with a stewy shredded beef and cheddar cheese. It’s not the fanciest arepa here by far, but one of the most popular items. It’s comfort food. On the fancier side if you want to go big, is the Arepa Pabellón, with beef, black beans, sweet plantains, and a white cheese with a soft and subtle flavor. The Mami Arepa is another favorite with an excellent fall off the bone roasted pork, avocado, and white cheese. The flavor of the cornmeal in the arepas go a step beyond the one-dimensional taste of many other places I’ve gone to, which makes the difference for me in why I like this place more than the many other arepas joints I’ve eaten at.
To go with the arepas, get the chicha, a sweet drink made with cinnamon, condensed milk, and boiled rice. It’s kind of analogous to a Mexican horchata, but much creamier. The jugo de papelón con limón, a brown sugar lemonade, is great for a hot day but is quite sweet.
Arepas Cafe is conveniently located just off the N near the Museum of Moving Image, which is also a New York gem worth visiting. I like going to the restaurant for chill weekday dinner or a lazy afternoon weekend meal since it can get busy during peak times on the weekends. The restaurant has a diner atmosphere with a staff that feels like family, but the food is more than good enough to impress your out-of-town guests with.
Pro-tip: Just order one arepa when you visit at first and use the provided sauces liberally. They are bigger and more filling than they seem. You can easily leave here stuffed for under ten dollars.
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