Restaurant: Arepa Cafe
Cuisine: Latin American/Cafe
Last Visited: February 28, 2013
Location: Toronto, ON (Queen West)
Address: 490 Queen Street West
Transit: Queen St West at Denison Ave
Phone: (416) 362-4111
Price Range: $10 or less
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 5 (based on one item)
- Since 2009
- Latin owned/operated
- Chef Luis Cordoba
- New Venezuelan food
- Specializes in arepas
- Local favourite
- Gluten free friendly
- Vegetarian friendly
- Budget friendly
- Family friendly
- Limited beer/wine
- Eat in/Take out
- Catering available
Mon-Tues 10:30 am – 9 pm
Wed-Fri 10:30 am – 10 pm
Saturday 10 am – 10 pm
Sunday 11 am – 8 pm
**Recommendations: I was recommended the Grilled Chicken Arepa by staff, so it is the only one I can vouch for.
That’s what’s so great about Toronto. I can go for a Five Spice Pork Belly Banh Mi and Pulled Pork Steamed Bao at Banh Mi Boys and then a few blocks away I can have a delicious Venezuelan arepa. I didn’t just happen to stumble across this though, I made a point to come. It wasn’t on my original Follow Me Foodie to Toronto itinerary, but my friend recommended me to try it. I haven’t had an arepa in ages and in Vancouver, BC (my home town) I don’t know anyone selling them, so the only time I can have them is when I am travelling.
As a tourist I’m not sure what the arepa scene in Toronto looks like, but after reading this article I can say there are at least a handful of options for them. I have only tried Arepa Cafe, but it looks like it is the most widely known by locals and a crowd favourite in Toronto. If I had more time in the city I would definitely research the arepa scene more.
If this is your first time trying an arepa I would say this is a solid place to start as chef and owner Luis Cordoba brings a quality arepa to Toronto. It is a very casual, clean and spacious restaurant with pay at cashier service.
What are Arepas?
Arepas are still quite unknown outside of Latin America, but they are a staple in Colombia and Venezuela. There are many varieties of them, but these ones are modern Venezuelan. In simplest terms the arepa dish is a Latin style pita or Latin sandwich. It is often compared to a Mexican gordita and/or a Salvadoran pupusa for a reference to actual Latin food.
It is a corncake made from cornmeal or corn flour (gluten free) that is either grilled, baked, pan fried or steamed. Traditionally the dough is made from fresh or dried corn, or maize grains, and grilled over coals – read more about it here. It is rare to find anyone making it the old fashioned way even if you are in Latin America.
What white bread is for North Americans is what arepas are for parts of South America. It can be eaten as a side dish or as a main stuffed with fillings or topped with toppings. At Arepa Cafe they are stuffed with traditional and new Venezuelan (Californian inspired) ingredients and combinations. Just like an American sandwich the fillings are endless so there is no right or wrong way to enjoy arepa.
It was pricier than other authentic Latin places specializing in arepa, but it was also more gourmet, hand crafted, and generously filled with quality ingredients. Everything is made from scratch including their assortment of desserts and sauces. I love arepas, but I haven’t had many in my lifetime, however these have positive testimonials from both arepa experts and beginners.
On the table:
- Herb mayo, tomato with cheese $9
- I had my eyes on the Rene Pepiada Arepa (chicken, avocado, red onion, coriander), Pabellon Arepa (flank steak, black bean, plantain and cheese), or Adobo Roasted Pork Arepa (Annatto, caramelized onions), but the staff suggested the Grilled Chicken Arepa.
- Honestly the Grilled Chicken sounded very ordinary to me, but she said it was her favourite even though the Rene Pepiada Arepa is most popular.
- It comes with an assortment of excellent house made sauces including: garlic mayo (aioli), extremely hot hot sauce, Latin cole slaw, and mild-medium spicy Chimichurri.
- It is basically a Latin grilled chicken and cheese club sandwich.
- The arepa dough was made in house and grilled upon order.
- It should be crispy on the exterior with a char-grilled flavour and the inside should be moist, tender and almost creamy and cakey.
- Sometimes the dough can be sweet, but it depends if the corn flour is yellow or white. There are dessert arepas as well.
- This one was all it was supposed to be, but I couldn’t really taste that charred flavour although still very good.
- The arepa itself tasted like an English Muffin meets fried polenta or creamed grits on the inside.
- It was thick enough to hold the ingredients, but thin enough to let the ingredients shine.
- The key to an excellent arepa is the arepa dough and not the filling, although quality ingredients are not ignored.
- The arepa was good enough to enjoy alone, but this one was stuffed with a generous amount of ingredients (more than most).
- It was stuffed with a thick and juicy piece of seasoned and grilled chicken breast perhaps marinated/tenderized in lime juice and/or yogurt (?).
- It was also loaded with shredded cheese that tasted like standard orange cheddar cheese.
- It gets only partially melted against the hot chicken and arepa.
- The herb mayo is house made and quite garlicky and it has a ton of flavour.
- It was an excellent arepa and the spicy Chimichurri gave it freshness and acidity to cut through the cheese.
- I only tried one arepa and it could likely get even better if I tried the others, but I wouldn’t know.
- It is apples and oranges, but I would pick an arepa over a standard white bun. If you’re gluten free than arepas are a great option.
- It was about the size of a standard burger so I found it a bit pricey considering they are usually around $6-7, but the quality was also better and I did thoroughly enjoy it.
A selection of house made desserts. Apparently the Tres Leches is very good, but I missed out and I was off to Kensington Market for lunch #3 and #4… and dessert. See – Follow Me Foodie to Kensington Market.