In the midst of President Trump’s largely anti-immigration stance, a lot of attention has been made to the growing hispanic population in the U.S. It reached an all time high of 57.5 million in 2016, accounting for 18% of the country’s population and the largest non-white U.S. ethnic group. But, nearly two-thirds of this Hispanic population is represented by Mexican-Americans. This means that many other Central-American and South American countries are greatly underrepresented within the U.S. latin culture. For instance, only .5% of the Hispanic-American population is Venezuelan, and only 1.9% is Colombian.
From a food standpoint, this means that Mexican cuisine dominates the Latin-American food scene in America. Nearly everyone in the U.S. knows what a taco is, but ask any American off the street what an arepa is, a primary staple of Venezuelan and Colombian cuisine, and they will most likely have no idea. This reigns even more true in Seattle, where the Hispanic population is only 6.2%, much less than the national rate. And so, when I stumbled upon Arepa’s Venezuelan Kitchen in U-District, I was too curious not to try.
The restaurant specializes in arepas, which are flat, round patties made of ground maize dough. They are usually fried, and then filled with various other Venezuelan staples including beans, avocado, and cheese, and served for breakfast.
The restaurant is very small, located right next to the old Grand Illusion Cinema in U-District. I immediately noticed the American flag attached to Arepa’s hanging out over the sidewalks. The inside gives off a very fastfood vibe, with a burger-joint style counter and bright menu hung over it. Dishes are even brought out in bright red baskets lined with checkered paper. A Venezuelan flag is proudly framed and hung up on the far side of the wall. But then again, another U.S. flag is dangles over the counter. The menu, while filled with intriguing items, is also diluted with very Americanized dishes including the “Seattle” arepa and the “arepa burger”. While I have very limited knowledge of this cuisine, I can definitely tell that this place is very dumbed-down to a mainly non-Venezuelan audience. The staff seem like they are Latin American, and are very friendly as I order the tostones and the cochino felix arepa.
Tostones for those who aren’t familiar, are twice-fried plantain slices, and are a very common side dish throughout Central America. I absolutely adore the flavor of plantains. At Brazilian steakhouses, my favorite meat pairing is the fried plantain — its rich sweetness perfectly pairs with the saltiness of the steak. And so, I’m a little disappointed that these Tostones seem to be largely missing the sweet plantain flavor. Good tostones are supposed to have a delicate plantain flavor while still maintaining the crisp texture of a cracker. These are tasty, but really lack a distinguished plantain flavor that make tostones different from a standard potato chip. What’s more, is that the dish is heavily coated in a bright white aioli, which slightly overpowers the plantains with a generic mayonnaise flavor. Nevertheless, for starch lovers, this is a perfect appetizer. I can easily picture a drunk University of Washington student stumbling into Arepa’s and absolutely loving this dish, as I’m sure happens a lot during the school year.
Cochino Felix Arepa:
The Cochino Felix Arepa comes out as basically an arepa stuffed with pork, tomato and cilantro aioli. Described as “signature pork”, I can’t help but feel left wanting a bit more from the bland thick slabs in my arepa. Without the cilantro aioli, there really isn’t a whole lot of non-cornmeal flavor in this sandwich. The sliced tomato doesn’t do a lot to help this. A couple bites in, I even feel the need to add some of the orange chipotle aioli packed into a squeeze bottle and put on each table like ketchup at a burger place. The arepa, though, is delicious. Crispy on the outside, yet warm, soft, and rich in starchy flavor on the inside, the arepa is everything you can ask for and more in the “bun” of the sandwich. With such a lackluster inside, I feel like I would’ve actually preferred just a plain arepa patty instead.
A restaurant called “Arepas” has some pretty tasty arepas, as it should be. However, the restaurants apparent infatuation with appealing to the American audience really masks this quality in some of their arepas. Overall, not a bad restaurant by any means for a first Venezuelan restaurant experience, but I know for a fact that the cuisine has more to offer me.