When's the last time you had Venezuelan food? And when's the last time you had it in Harrisburg?
If your answer to both of those questions is “never,” then it’s time you head to Arepa City. In fact, I’m always surprised at how many people have never heard of or tried this little gem of a Venezuelan place on Second Street in downtown Harrisburg, located next to Ceoltas Irish Pub.
While you can order all sorts of Latin American food at Arepa City, the star of the menu is undoubtedly the arepa (pronounced “ah-RAY-pah”). Considered a staple at every meal in Venezuela (and Colombia), these soft, spongy corn buns are gluten-free and prepared fresh daily. Think of the arepa as a Latin version of a slider, except that it’s a little bit larger and a lot more filling than your average American slider.
Arepa varieties range from the pabellon (shredded flank steak, black beans, sweet plantain and queso fresco) and the reina pepiada (chicken and avocado salad) to my favorite, the pernil (slow-roasted pork). If you enjoy the pernil as much as I do, you should also try the miliciosa, which takes the already flavorful pork bun one step further by adding grilled queso fresco and avocado.
As an appetizer, I highly recommend ordering the tostones, which are perfectly fried and lightly salted green plantain slices. We ordered them with a side of guasacaca sauce, a Venezuelan version of guacamole, only tangier! And if you like spicy — I’m talking you’re-OK-with-eating-hot-red-peppers-by-the-spoon spicy — then go for the homemade spicy slaw, a pink, vinegary slaw that’s swimming with dried red pepper pieces. I honestly think it’s even spicier now than the last time I had it at Arepa City, because I could barely get past a few bites. It’s flavor-packed but not for the faint at heart. Go ahead, I dare you.
Arepa City’s entrées are like more elaborate versions of the arepa fillings. You’ll find lots of plantains, beans, rice and meats. There’s also the option of patacones, fried whole green plantains served sandwich-style. It’s almost as if the arepas and tostones had a tasty love child!
Something else you might not know is that the kitchen is open late — 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. — on Friday and Saturday nights. The late-night menu is pared down to arepas and shish kabobs (chicken or beef skewers), the latter of which are made in a food cart right out front. Now you know what that delicious smell is when you walk by!
Don’t forget that Arepa City is BYOB. There are a few tables available for outdoor dining, too. Give it a try and let me know what you think.