I like saying the word quickly, with a lively roll of the “r” in the middle. The first time I tried arepas, I thought it would be like a taco, mistaking Latin food for Mexican food. But arepas, traditional Venezuelan grilled corn pocket sandwiches, are nothing like the tacos I expected. They were sturdier, heftier, slightly doughy and puffy inside, lightly crisp outside.
Filled with all sorts of goodies – cheese, meat, beans, eggs – they were like “little pockets of joy,” a description I once read that stuck with me.
I visited the newly-opened Orinoco: A Latin Kitchen in Harvard Square for brunch last weekend, and my girl friends and I filled up on good conversation and these little sandwiches.
Orinoco has two other Boston outposts aside from Harvard Square. There’s one in the South End and another in Brookline, but I’ve never been to either, in spite of my inclination towards restaurants that serve caipirinhas. (And flan.) I’ve been to another Latin restaurant (La Casa de Pedro in Watertown) several times and greatly enjoy the food and drinks, and I’ve heard many good things about Orinoco, so I was happy to finally check it out.
Orinoco is in a little hidden alley along JFK Street. It feels almost magical to step way from the bustling street into the quiet entryway.
I had to order a mimosa (had to!) because we were there for brunch. The Orinoco mimosa is made with proseco and passion fruit juice, and it tasted very refreshing.
We ordered some tequenos to start – Guayanes cheese wrapped in dough and served with chipotle ketchup:
Essentially the Latin version of mozzarella sticks.
Fried cheese for brunch, along with passion fruit mimosa? Why yes, yes, I would like that.
And we shared a few arepas so we could try little bites of everything:
Pabellon: black beans, mechada (shredded beef), tajadas (plantains) and queso blanco (crumbly white cheese that resembled feta)
Reina pepiada: shredded chicken salad, avocado, and tomato
Mananita: perico (Venezuelan style scrambled eggs) and chorizo
Guayanesa: Venezuelan creamy guayanes cheese
This was my absolute favorite dish at Orinoco. Sure, I liked the other arepas too, especially the mananita since I do love scrambled eggs and chorizo, but that wasn’t the arepa that stole my heart.
The guayanes cheese stuffed inside the arepa so closely resembled Filipino kesong puti (white cheese), the cheese I’ve loved my whole life. The soft pillowy texture, the slight saltiness, the intense creaminess – it was like biting into a sandwich from home.
The tequenos contained the same cheese, but fried, and it was more similar to soft, stretchy mozzarella. But fresh, stuffed inside the grilled corn bread, it reminded me of my very favorite breakfast item in the world.
We ordered a caramel flan for dessert (which also reminded me of leche flan from the Philippines) and while it was fantastic, after tasting the arepa guayanesa, I couldn’t seem to like anything else better.
My friends Kim, Mich, and I really enjoyed our brunch at Orinoco and we will definitely be back. Usually when I intend to come back to a restaurant, it is to try other items on the menu (like First Printer) but this time I am pretty sure that I will be ordering the guayanesa again. It was a pocket of joy, indeed.
Arepas. I say the word even quicker now, as if saying it faster will get me closer to my cheese. I can’t wait for my next one.
Have you ever had an arepa? What’s your favorite filling?