Since 2003, Caracas Arepa Bar has served as introduction for countless New Yorkers to the Venezuelan arepa.* Their fans are legion—we dig them ourselves—and it's easy to see why, what with slender pockets of griddled cornmeal overstuffed with all manner of spicy meat, salty cheese, tangy vegetables, and earthy beans. As snack food goes, the arepa is a happy sandwich.
* Do a search for "arepa" and Caracas is the second result.
For a while Caracas was only a tiny restaurant in the East Village, which is frequently as loaded as the arepas themselves. Then in 2008 the restaurant opened a larger space in Williamsburg, which can seat 75. That's where we descended recently to eat every arepa on the menu—all twelve of them, plus a tofu variation—along with most of the sides.
Fans though we are, not all of Caracas' arepas are made equally. Some are much better than others, and with prices between $6.50 and $8 for a snack-sized sandwich (two are more appropriate for lunch), you want to stick to the good stuff. Consider this your guide to the best.
Another cautionary note: the cornmeal dough for Caracas' arepas is pretty lean, more devoted to a crisp crust it seems than tender innards. On our visit we found this to be more the case than usual, with a crumb that verged on dry. So when you make your Caracas trip, don't let the sandwiches sit around for too long. They're best when fresh off the griddle.
Though arepa fillings range substantially, you'll notice a similar flavor profile going on throughout the menu: meaty, spicy, tangy, and salty. These are good things all, but some elements are better than others. We found ourselves drawn to those that displayed the best balance of those flavors: the beefy Pabellón, the tangy Leek Jardinera, the fish-centric Vista al Mar, and the cheese-sausage double whammy of the Los Muchachos. Plus one mild oddball that really worked: the chicken and avocado Reina Pepiada.
See the full play by play in the slideshow. Arepas are ordered generally from more to less favored, but not strictly ranked.