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The easiest way to spark a debate between Venezuelans and Colombians: ask them about the origin of the arepa.
These corn griddle cakes are common in both countries — but in very differing styles. Venezuelan arepas are usually savory and stuffed with meat, cheese, and beans. Colombian arepas can be sweet, and are usually topped only with butter and quesito colombiano. Which one is the true arepa? Whose is better?
Real talk: The great arepa debate is moot.
The food has roots with the indigenous people who lived on the land in both countries, so the modern nation-state borders are meaningless.
Carlos Gaviria, a chef and teacher at La Sabana University in Colombia, believes the arepa is from America as a whole.”When something belongs to everyone, it belongs to no one,” Gaviria told the Latin American Post.
Good news if you’re curious about arepas’ regional variations, because Philly has both kinds. Check out these spots and decide for yourself which one is best.
524 S 4th St.
Husband-and-wife proprietors 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 likepabellon criollo or asada negro and appetizers like empanadas and tequeños. (Tip: this week you can get 5% off online orders)
La Caleñita Bakery and Cafe
5034 N. 5th St. #3835
For decades this restaurant has been a staple on 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 arepa breakfasts, where the corn cake comes with huevos pericos (scrambled eggs) and rice, or just a fried egg on the side.
6 Station Rd., Ardmore
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 alongside 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 make sure to save room for a dessert of tres leches cake, key lime pie, or quesollo, a Venezuelan flan.
143 E. Wyoming Ave.
Owner Giselle Paveda is a third-generation baker bringing her grandfather’s Colombian recipes right here to Philly. The North Philly neighborhood bakery’s ever changing menu has all the classics.
Start with juices of every flavor you can imagine, like 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 alongside the calentado bowl for the perfect blend of salty and sweet.