With plate glass windows and no liquor license to speak of, Arepera Guacuco seems to occupy an in-between space in the Bushwick restaurant scene, neither precursor to nor byproduct of the neighborhood's gentrification. It's a category unto itself, a cheerful, low-key space that has earned a loyal local following on the merit of its small, traditional menu of affordable, exceedingly well-executed arepas.
While I'd heartily recommend any of Guacuco's dishes, I'd also be lying. Despite the best of intentions, I'm unable to broaden my selection beyond the very first order I ever placed—the Pabellón ($7) is simply that good. The sandwich gets a slab-like serving of tender shredded beef, marinated with onions and peppers in a fiery tomato sauce. You'll also find your requisite black beans and fried sweet plantains, piping hot and topped off with a generous crumble of queso año.
The arepa—grilled in oil, baked, then sliced and stuffed—reaches a golden-brown crispness that I've been hard-pressed to find at other New York areperias. But it's the house sauces—the salsa rosada (ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard), the picante nulo (jalapeños, green tomatillos), and the guasacaca (herbs, avocado)— that seal the deal, each containing some of chef-owner Leonardo Molina's carefully guarded secret ingredients from recipes brought from his home town of (yup, you guessed it) Guacuco, Venezuela. Want to dive all the way down the rabbit hole? Pair your arepa with the restaurant's Cocada ($4), aptly subtitled, "Amazing coconut milk shake." You can thank me later.
About the author: Niki Achitoff-Gray is the associate editor of Serious Eats and a recent graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She's pretty big into oysters, offal, and most edible things. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatandcry.