De Pabellón ($7.50)
Pulled braised beef with tender black beans, sweet plantains, and crumbly-salty white cheese. One of the most popular arepas, and it's easy to see why. All the components are balanced well, with sweet meat and salty cheese tempered by the starchy beans and plantains. Add some hot sauce and you're in great shape.
Leek Jardinera ($6.50)
Caracas offers a couple vegetarian arepas, and this is our favorite: creamy guayanés cheese topped with tangy leeks, sun-dried tomatoes, and caramelized onions. Satisfying and bright, more flavorful than heavy.
Reina Pepiada ($7)
What you could call the Venezuelan canapé: chilled shredded chicken tossed with creamy avocado. The combination is less assertive than most at Caracas, but it's one of our favorites—mild but moist and creamy.
Vista al Mar ($8)
Tilapia with garlic oil, pickled onions, radishes, and an herb spread that soaks into the arepa dough. The only arepa where tart pickled flavors are front and center, and it's all the better for it. The fish is mild but well cooked, meaty enough to keep all the veggie toppings in check.
Los Muchachos ($8)
The mix of grilled sausage, griddle-fried cheese, and spicy peppers is high on the salt, fat, and spice—which is fine by us. While Caracas' best arepas show balance and some restraint, this young buck offers a lot to love.
A huge block of tofu-soft guaynés cheese with tomato, avocado, peppers, and chimichurri. The relish adds just enough intensity to flesh out the cheese.
La Mulata ($6.75)
Another vegetarian arepa to root for: salty, chewy cheese with a light griddled crust, black beans, and sweet plantains. The relish of cooked down red peppers adds the sweetness this starchy arepa needs, but be wary of the jalapenos—they can get pretty hot.
La del Gato ($6.75)
Soft cheese, fried sweet plantains, and a fanned avocado. Not the most intensely flavored arepa, but a satisfying balance of sweet, salty, and creamy.
La Sureña ($8)
An overstuffed arepa of grilled chicken and chorizo, avocado, and spicy chimichurri. Take one element out, like the bland, chewy chicken, and you have a great sandwich. As-is there's just too much.
La de Pernil ($7.50)
The pulled pork is tender enough, but not especially well seasoned. Winter tomatoes and a sweet mango sauce do their part, but we wanted more from this arepa.
De Pollo ($6.50)
The cheapest meat arepa on the menu, and the most conservative with a mix of white meat chicken, unmelted cheddar, and caramelized onions. We'd recommend skipping this one, which is too bland for our tastes.
La Pelúa ($7)
The two-note mix of pulled beef and unmelted cheddar feels more "taco night" than the spicy-funky flavor we know Caracas can deliver. If you want beef, stick to the Pabellón.
Most of the meat in Caracas' arepas can be replaced with blocks of tofu. Here it subs for the beef in the Pabelló. The creamy tofu is mild, so don't expect it to balance your sandwich in the same way. If you're okay eating dairy we'd recommend the vegetarian arepas instead.
The Secret Sauce
The house salsa that you should slather liberally on everything. The kitchen won't divulge its ingredients, but one guess: the basic flavors of sweet pepper, mustard, and citrus point toward a chili like lemon drop.
Tostones Mochimeros ($5.75)
If you're going to order one of the "sidekicks," make it these—they disappeared faster than almost anything on the table. Four smashed and fried green plantains (more starchy than sweet) come to an order, each topped with a creamy chili- and herb-laced green sauce and a snowfall of salty cheese. They're bright and distinctly savory; the plantains have a satisfying chewiness beneath their well developed crust.
Guasacaca & Chips ($6.25)
Thick-cut taro chips with a loose Venezualan guacamole called guasacaca (here's our recipe). Standout chips and guac indeed. We appreciate the taro's slight nuttiness that's brought out more by the trip through the fryer.
Sweet plantains and mild white dipped in a thick cinnamon-spiked batter and deep fried, served with a sweet caramel dipping sauce. We like these poofy fritters, but their sweetness makes them more appropriate for dessert.
These yuca, potato, and chorizo croquettes have a pleasantly fluffy texture but are on the mild side; slather on the accompanying cilantro sauce heavily.
Arroz con Caraotas ($5)
Straightforward, relatively mild rice and beans. Good texture; sauce heavily.
Sweet plantains sliced lengthwise and lightly fried. We wished they were sweeter and more crusty to better play against the salty cheese in the dipping ramekin.
The priciest side, but not our favorite. They're essentially dough-wrapped mozzarella sticks, but they miss the saltiness and deep chew or melting softness of the best examples of the form.