It’s hip to be ethnic. At least, that’s the take in the East Village, a past Mecca to foreigners and a present one to the hip. While the neighborhood is becoming more pretentious Caracas Arepas Bar To-Go, located at 91 E 7th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A, is a simple example of old-world home-cooking.

In 2003, husband and wife team Maribel Araujo and Aristides Barrios opened both Caracas Arepas Bar and Caracas Arepas Bar To-Go, side by side. Since then, the regular arepas bar is constantly packed as intrigued and loyal customers come to experience the traditional Venezuelan street dish, a crispy flour shell stuffed with meats, cheeses or vegetables. If seating isn’t your thing, forget the regular restaurant, where a 45-minute wait is considered short, and head next door to the tiny “to-go” counterpart, which seats only 14, uncomfortably. The menu is shorter than next door but equally savory, featuring arepas, empanadas and sides. Restaurant reviewers have sung the praises of this tiny hole-in-the-wall, calling it the solution to the overplayed burrito, falafel or grilled cheese.

Arepas are a true reflection of Venezuelan culture, traditionally served in roadside huts to travelers looking for a delicious bite and warm company. At Caracas, the kitchen staff (a whopping two guys) prides themselves on authenticity. Hanging above the kitchen reads, “Our food is 100% handmade. Please be patient. This is NOT a FAST FOOD restaurant.”

And while the clientele is composed mostly of East Village hipsters, clad in skinny jeans, slogan-lined t-shirts and a-symmetrical haircuts, (and perhaps the occasional granola hippie caught up in the romance of South American cuisine) no one is there to see or be seen. Though the street surrounding it is modern East Village, with its apartment brownstones and alternative clothing boutiques, it is easy to feel transported to Venezuela stepping inside the tightly cramped room with loud music and clanking from the open kitchen. The employees are fast-paced but not rude. No one seems to mind that they are sitting right on top of one another. This is the East Village of the turn of the century, when ma and pa would set up their restaurants so that fellow immigrants could come inside for a taste of home. All that’s missing are Venezuelan customers.

Advertisements