Derek Marin learned his arepa recipe from his mother, who of course was taught by her own mother. Marin brought that family recipe to Costa Rica. His restaurant, Caracas Arepas & Juice Bar, in downtown San José’s Barrio Amón, brings authentic Venezuelan arepas to the country’s capital.
Arepas are thick, corn-based patties cooked on a griddle or hot plate and then stuffed with a variety of different fillings. In Venezuela, arepas are eaten morning, noon and night.
The restaurant’s menu relates how Marin, who grew up in the U.S., learned to cook arepas from his Venezuelan mother, Eglee Marin, and grandmother, Aura Mora. The multigenerational recipe turns out some mouthwatering treats.
The can’t-miss option is the Reina Pepiada, filled with avocado chicken salad. The thick, warm shell of the arepa contrasts well with the mouthwatering stuffing. One of the most popular arepas in Venezuela, Reina Pepiada translates slangily to “Sexy Queen” and is said to be named after a Venezuelan beauty queen.
For toastier options, both the pollo mechado and carne mechada (shredded chicken and beef, respectively) are also recommended choices for those new to the arepa.
Marin has done some experimenting with his arepa recipes, including adding typical Costa Rican ingredients. This recipe tweaking has paid off deliciously. The Caraqueño features a Tico twist by combining shredded beef with black beans and Turrialba cheese, a Tico specialty. A vegetarian variation, the Domino, leaves out the meat.
Other arepas with a foreign influence include the Italiano, with salami, basil and mozzarella cheese, and the Americano, stuffed with ham and Monteverde cheese. A breakfast arepa of egg, sausage and cheese is also available. The menu features 12 types of arepas in total (₡1,100-1,700/$2.20-3.40).
For a filling meal, you’ll want at least two or three arepas, and they can be bought in combos with a drink and a side of French fries, plantains, rice and beans, or salad (add ₡1,200/$2.40). But if you’re looking to eat more than just an arepa, there is a more original option: the smoothies.
Marin put two smoothies with Venezuelan roots on the menu. The Cocada is an intriguing mixture of coconut, milk, condensed milk and cinnamon. The seemingly healthier Tres en Uno combines beets, orange and carrots. Both are worth trying (smoothies cost ₡1,400/$2.80). In addition, the Limonada Roja – cranberry juice and lime – is a tart option that goes well with anything on the menu.
Caracas also offers a variety of bocas (appetizers) such as chicken wings, chalupas, meatballs, patacones (fried green plantains) and ceviche (₡2,000-3,000/$4-6).
The restaurant doubles as a bar at night, and has upstairs seating in addition to the main restaurant area downstairs. Marin occasionally hosts salsa nights, art exhibits and other cultural events. But the cultural highlight in this restaurant is, of course, the arepa, a Venezuelan staple brought to the heart of San José.
Caracas Arepas & Juice Bar
Location: Barrio Amón, Av. 7, 75 m west of INS.
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The restaurant is sometimes open later on weekends for events; check the website below.
Contact: 2258-6565, www.caracasarepas.com.
Delivery is offered within a four-block radius; deliveries farther away may be arranged depending on order size and with advance notice. The restaurant will host private parties and events; contact owner Derek Marin for information.