My boyfriend and I once went through a phase where we chose a different and new cuisine via restaurant each week. Well, that happened (intentionally) twice. Once was Ethiopian and the second time was Venezuelan food at El Cocotero in Chelsea. There, we tried their national dish called arepas, which are corn flour sandwiches of sort. El Cocotero’s were OK, but a little too bread-y for our taste.
Cut to some two years later and I finally revisited Venezuelan food, this time at Caracas, an East Village spot that my friends have been raving about for ages.
And they’re not the only ones who love it. It’s a popular spot, and the wait can be hefty, even on a weekday. Luckily, ours was only 30 minutes on a Wednesday despite the amazingly pleasant weather, which brought out all the East Village hipsters, like this one:
Just kidding. He’s not a hipster, but he did come to dinner as did his East Village-dwelling sister. They’re huge Caracas fans, so I left the ordering up to them. (It required massive restraint on my part.) To top it off, we were seated at the bar, which I actually love, so we chatted it up with the Venezuelan bartender lady, who was nice enough to give us a sample of the coconut milkshake we had been ogling at.
We started with their natural fruit juices. Three passion fruits straight up!
The appetizers are one of the best draws of Caracas, and I fell head over heels for the Tostones Mochimeros (fried green plantains topped with mojito mayo, a squeeze of lemon and white cheese):
We also got guacamole and plantain chips because 1.) we always over-order and 2.) I can’t go anywhere pan-latin/South American without getting guac and chips or a relative thereof. The guacamole was good, not great, but I loved the chips. They’re just like Terra chips!
If you’re getting appetizer(s), then one arepa is plenty. I wanted to do vegetarian and so I got the La Mulata arepa:
It was filled with grilled white cheese, jalapeños, sautéed red peppers, fried sweet plantains and black beans. I hate to dumb down good food — I once said Serendipty’s Frozen Hot Chocolate was exactly like a Starbucks Frappuchino — but considering the ingredients, it tasted like a regular burrito. That being said, it was still delicious and the arepa flour was fantastic, totally surpassing that at El Cocotero.
My boyfriend got the De Pollo, consisting of chicken, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese. My thinking is that the meat arepas are the ones to get. I mean, South America is to meat as I am to chocolate brownie sundaes — I love chocolate brownie sundaes — so it’s best to go with what they know.
Post arepas, the bartender was all about this chocolate mousse dessert, which has a layer of biscuits nestled inside. We were told it’s a traditional sweet and that the restaurant often runs out of it, so…yes, please!
It was rich and indulgent and exactly up my alley, but it didn’t feel very South American. (Because, clearly, I know all about South American culture.) This dulce de leche dessert, however, did seem very in line with the rest of the meal:
The Obleas. Totally incredible. It’s difficult to see, but that’s two paper-thin wafers sandwiching a dulce de leche spread. The bartender told us it’s a traditional dessert often sold on the beach. Mmm…take me there…with that dessert. For those wanting a taste of something sweet without indulging all the way (see chocolate dessert above), this is the perfect solution. If you’re looking for authentic and unique, this is where it’s at.
Caracas Arepa Bar
93 E. 7th St. (between 1st Ave. and A)
6 to Astor Place