Arepas in Philadelphia: where to find the Colombian/Venezuelan dish

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The easiest way to start a debate between Venezuelans and Colombians: ask them about the origins of the arepa.

These corn cakes are common in both countries, but in very different styles. Venezuelan arepas are usually savory and filled with meat, cheese, and beans. Colombian arepas can be sweet and are usually just topped with butter and quesito colombiano. Which is the real arepa? Whose is better?

Real talk: The great arepa debate is moot.

The food is rooted in the indigenous people who lived on land in both countries, so modern country borders are meaningless.

Carlos Gaviria, a chef and teacher at La Sabana University in Colombia, believes the arepa comes from America as a whole. “If something belongs to everyone, it belongs to nobody,” Gaviria told the Latin American Post.

Good news if you’re curious about the regional variations of arepas, because Philly has both varieties. Check out these spots and decide for yourself which one is best.

Puyero

524 S 4th St.

The owners of husbands Gilberto Arends and Manuela Villasmil moved to Philly from Venezuela in 2011 and opened Puyero in Queens Village six years later.

Located just off South Street, the cafe specializes in arepas and patacones (a fried plantain sandwich), each with a variety of fillings. Options include the reina pepiada arepa and the patacón pisado, alongside larger plates like pabellon criollo or asada negro and appetizers like empanadas and tequeños. (Tip: this week you get a 5% discount on online orders)

Bakery and cafe La Caleñita

5034 N. 5th St. #3835

For decades, this restaurant has been a staple of the growing North 5th Street corridor—aka el Centro de Oro—giving the Latino community a daily dose of Colombian cuisine.

Almost every meal comes with an arepita — a smaller, thicker arepa. For example the calentado, a rice and bean dish topped with a fried egg, meat and an arepa. The menu also has an arepa breakfast, where the corn cake comes with huevos pericos (scrambled eggs) and rice, or just a fried egg on the side.

autana

6 Station Rd., Ardmorea

The Venezuelan restaurant was born because of the pandemic, after co-owner Levi lost his job as a chef at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia and saw an opportunity to make his mark. Levi runs the restaurant at Ardmore Station with his wife Maria-Elena.

The small but mighty menu offers 12 arepa combinations, six patacón varieties, and seven empanada options, along with other traditional Venezuelan dishes like mandocas and costiliilas, or ribs. Oh, and be sure to save room for dessert of tres leches cake, key lime pie, or quesollo, a Venezuelan flan.

cafe Tinto

143 E Wyoming Ave.

Owner Giselle Paveda is a third-generation baker who brings her grandfather’s Colombian recipes here to Philly. The North Philly neighborhood bakery’s ever-changing menu has all the classics.

Start with juices of any flavor you can think of, such as mango, passion fruit, or lulo. Don’t miss the stars of the show—the empanadas, almojabanas, and dedos de queso—but make room to try an arepa de chocolo, a sweet version. Try it next to the calentado bowl for the perfect mix of salty and sweet.

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