Arepas — the Venezuelan griddled corn cakes stuffed with various good things — can be had at two East Village restaurants separated by a mere three blocks. Caracas Arepa Bar has been open since 2003 and is so popular that they recently expanded to Brooklyn. Guayoyo opened about eight months ago, this past December, and offers a long list of arepas as well as Venezuelan mains.
Both places serve a basic arepa with Guayanés cheese, named for a region in the southeast of Venezuela. Both cost $6.50, though Guayoyo throws in some sliced avocado, an added value. So which arepa queso Guayanés is more delicious?
As for the corn cakes themselves, I could not find one single difference between them. Both were perfectly round, tough-crisp on the outside, tender and steamy inside; tasted mildly of white corn; and had been browned slightly on either side before being slit open and filled with cheese. They are so alike that if I didn’t know better, I’d guess the restaurants are buying pre-made arepas from the same place, but both are adamant that they make the cakes in-house, and there’s no reason to disbelieve them — in fact, it seems like both are made-to-order.
So, if both arepas are equally good, we’re down to the cheese. Guayanés cheese is a medium-soft fresh cheese, salty and stretchy, a little bit like a cross between queso fresco and mozzarella. Caracas piles it in cold and lets the heat of the arepa soften the cheese slightly, while Guayoyo melts its cheese thoroughly.
But Guayanés cheese does not melt particularly well — it becomes very stringy and leaks oil. Guayoyo’s rendition is still awfully tasty, though, especially with the buttery avocado. But Caracas’s method better preserves the cheese’s moist, pillowy texture and milky-salty flavor.
So Caracas squeaks into victory, although Guayoyo does have an edge on the value. (And unlike Caracas, Guayoyo has plenty of seating.) Either one is an excellent place to kill an arepa craving in Manhattan.
Caracas Arepa Bar
93 East 7th Street
67 First Avenue