Patacon Pisao (85-22 Grand Avenue, Elmhurst; 718-899-8922) began as a food truck on 202nd Street in Washington Heights, outside the dance clubs and bars, and it became a solid late-night move for drunk clubgoers. In the beginning, the menu was centered around protein-based options like beef and pork — mostly because the truck was serving a primarily Dominican neighborhood — but as the years went on, customers began asking for vegetarian options. The menu soon expanded.
Jonathan Hernandez’s mother opened the food truck in 2005, but when Hernandez graduated college, his role in the operation grew. He was instrumental in creating a vegetarian-friendly menu for his customers. “We decided to have vegetarian items just because there are a lot of vegetarians out there, [and it] would be advantageous to add vegetarian options,” he says. “Venezuelan food is very diverse — our vegetarian dishes are one of a kind.”
Now Patacon Pisao has opened two brick-and-mortar locations — the first in Elmhurst, Queens, in 2010, and the second on the Lower East Side, in September 2014.
While most automatically think of arepas in reference to Venezuelan cuisine, Patacon Pisao’s signature dish is the patacon, a sandwich made with a double-fried plantain bun. The patacon is the sandwich of Maracaibo, the second biggest city in Venezuela. We decided to try the vegetarian patacon ($8), filled with black beans, avocado, queso blanco, sweet yellow plantains, and salsa verde.
The patacon “buns” were made out of green plantains and prepared in-house — the plantains were smashed, then double-fried to get a consistency akin to that of a plantain chip. The result was a huge, crunchy plantain chip with an inherently savory taste. The black beans provided the base for the sandwich, while the fried cheese, or queso blanco, gave it chew. The plantains added a slight sweetness.
The zuliana cachapa ($8) was the night’s winner, though; the large quesadilla-shaped corn cake was filled with a slab of mozzarella, and topped with parmesan cheese. While it tasted like cornbread, the texture was slightly different: less fluffy and more compact. Kernels of corn were present, and when we cut into the cachapa, the melted mozzarella cheese — widely used throughout the menu in lieu of Venezuelan cheese since mozzarella is less costly — yielded to our forks, oozing into the corn cake. With one bite, we got a mouthful of sweet and salty working in tandem.