There are lots of “best of” lists and “favorites” lists, and general discussion about “What’s the best _____?” or “What’s your favorite _____?” These discussions are helpful and fun, but as I get asked about favorites or bests or top five, I’ve come to find that a more useful designation – at least for restaurants – is “Where’s a place you would always eat, any time?” In this case if you asked me, “Do you want to go to El Arepazo?” the answer is always, automatically, “YES.”
(Shoot, now I kinda want to go there for lunch today…)
If you’re not familiar with El Arepazo, that’s understandable… for now. The original location is small, tucked down an alley downtown, and usually mobbed at lunchtime with the working crowd. They’re not open for dinner, so access isn’t always easy.
All the same: you need to get there. The hidden location, the friendly owners and staff, and the menu of Venezuelan specialties (and a few other Latin American flavors tossed in) make it worth every trip.
If you go during lunchtime on weekdays, expect a wait, but not a long one. You’ll enter the restaurant by a side door, then line up down a hallway and place your order at a small cashier stand. Take a number, find a seat (there are tables outside, too), and enjoy!
One of the house specialties is the arepa (pronounced ah-RAY-puh): a small Venezuelan sandwich made from a grilled corncake that’s split open and filled with meat, cheese, and veggies. It’s messy but delicious. You can choose from beef, chicken, pork, vegetarian, or cheese versions. My personal preference is for the pork.
If you’re getting an arepa, you should also order a side of arepitas to share. They’re little fried corncakes served with their cilantro sauce.
Oh, wait, I haven’t mentioned the cilantro sauce yet? It’s a legal drug. Seriously, it’s crack. It goes with everything on the menu, and everything beyond it. You can buy bottles to take home and put on every food you could possibly make.
The cilantro sauce comes in mild and spicy versions, and both are excellent.
Another specialty: the patacon (known as tostones in some Latin American countries). The base is a flattened and fried plantain (a common item on the menu) topped with cheese, lettuce, your choice of meat, avocado, and more. Oh, and the cilantro sauce.
They make great empanadas, too. Our boys love those. With cilantro sauce.
Colorful fish tacos, three of them lined up and topped with lettuce, a corn salad, avocado, and little dabs of a surprisingly spicy chipotle sauce. Oh, and cilantro sauce.
One of my favorite recent discoveries, and one of those memorable meals that really sticks with you: chilaquiles. It was offered as a special, but if you see it again, order it. Rice, well seasoned black beans (it’s a pet peeve of mine when black beans are served as a side with no seasoning), plantains, strips of potato, pork, cheese, sour cream. Just a lovely punch of flavor. I expected it to be good, but it blew me away.
Oh, and cilantro sauce.
Did I mention the cilantro sauce? It’s good, of the crazy variety.
El Arepazo has two more locations – one in Gahanna and one in the Brewery District – they serve lunch and dinner menus, and offer cocktails, beer, and wine. The dinner menus offer a wider range of items. But my favorite will always be lunch at the original spot downtown.
If you want to go (and if you haven’t, why not?!):
47 N. Pearl St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
Open Mon-Fri, 11a-3p; Sat, 11a-4p
Find them on Facebook and Instagram (@arepazo)