Phantom Diner

Arepa City Latin Eatery – The Phantom Diner, July 2010

Written by The Phantom Diner | Jun 21, 2010 6:13 PM

One of best things about the growth of Central PA’s restaurant choices over the past few years is the variety of ethnic options available as compared to 10 or even five years ago.

Arepa City Latin Eatery on Harrisburg’s North Second Street is but one of the more recent examples; and it is definitely worth a try.

In business now for more than a year, this small, bright, noisy, often jumping spot offers Venezuelan fare, is open for lunch and dinner, and specializes in fresh-made arepas (delicious sweet corn buns that can be stuffed and eaten as a sort of part-wrap/part-pita sandwich) and empanadas (closed, stuffed crescent-shaped, part bread/part pastry delights, also popular in Spain and Portugal).

In addition to many different arepas and empanadas, there also are salads, appetizers, soups and entrees, all at amazingly low prices. And, since Arepa City is BYOB, a couple can dine well on more than enough food for only about $30.

I’d note that in some Harrisburg restaurants $30 doesn’t buy one entree.

Do not expect fancy. The place is small, stark and simple, with a tile floor and a drop ceiling. But it’s clean and cheery. There are bright yellow walls, bright lights and nice artwork throughout. A small bar in the back can accommodate a regular or two who want a quick snack. There’s also some outdoor seating.

Servers are wonderful: friendly, extremely helpful with menu choices, eager to explain what each dish is like. On one visit, a server even suggested a couple might want to split an entree, which, think about it, is not exactly in the house interest. But portions tend to be large, and splitting allows room for sampling other items.

I’ve now eaten at Arepa City multiple times and never have been disappointed.

Arepas themselves range in price from just $4.50 for a plain cheese arepa made with your choice of three different cheeses to $8 for an asado negro arepa made with roasted eye round and glazed with raw sugar cane. To me, this tastes more like pot roast than anything else, but it is tender and very good.

Other arepas include a “domino,” made with black beans and cheese for $5; an arepa with spicy chorizo and diced potatoes for $6; or with slow-cooked chicken in tomato sauce for $5.25.

Appetizers include house-made black bean soup or chicken soup for about $4. After that, things can get challenging. But popular items to try and to share include tostones (fried green plantain served with a homemade spicy slaw) for just $3.50, and yucca frita (a fried starchy, potato-like root vegetable), also served with the spicy slaw and also only $3.50. One order of each is enough for two couples to share.

Empanadas are priced from $3.50 to $5 and come filled with cheese, chicken, beef, ham and cheese, pernil (pork) and more.

There’s a mixed green salad for $4.25; a potato salad (and I mean a salad made with a baked potato, onions and tomato, served over spinach) for $5; hearts of palm and avocado for $8; and a shish kebab with chicken or steak over mixed greens with salad dressing for $8.25 or $9.25.

But the entrees are where the fun is. They are priced from about $9 to $14.50 and include the aforementioned asado negro (pot roast) but this time as a full meat course, glazed with raw sugar cane and served with two sides, your choice of black beans, rice, fried cheese or avocado. This is the highest-priced menu item.

There’s also platano relleno, deep-fried whole plantain stuffed with picadillo (ground pork, beef and more) over spicy cabbage and topped with mozzarella cheese ($8.75). You can get this entree as a vegetarian dish ($8.25); the ground meat is simply replaced with black beans.

There’s pernil asado, slow-roasted — and I mean like for half a day — pork leg served with fried cassava, plantains and potato salad ($12.25); pabellon criollo, a classic Latin dish of shredded flank steak, white rice, black beans, fried plantains and cheese ($12). This is a good bet for newcomers looking to sample the cuisine.

Or you could go for the chicken morichal, chicken in tomato sauce served with black beans, rice and plantains ($11), or arroz con pollo, chicken with Spanish rice, chorizo, olives, peppers and onion ($10.50), the latter a hot and spicy dish that I highly recommend for those without digestive issues who enjoy spicy foods.

Arepa City kindly tells patrons what’s hot. On the menu, there’s a little red pepper icon thing by spicy dishes. And if anything’s not hot enough for you, you can order a side of “cry baby sauce” for just $1.25.

There are soft drinks, tropical juices, coffee and tea and even a banana milkshake, which I’ve vowed to return for, perhaps over lunch.

Do not leave without ordering the flan of the day. These house-made sweets are light, smooth and bursting with flavor. Flavors change. When you visit, pray they’re serving coconut.

Chef/owner Daniel Farias — you’ll likely see him; he often greets all patrons — has a lot to be proud of at Arepa City. And Arepa City makes a real contribution to Central PA’s dining experience.

AREPA CITY LATIN EATERY

316 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg; Venezuelan/Latin cuisine; BYOB; street parking or nearby parking garage; open for lunch & dinner every day but Sun; open until 2am Fri & Sat, serving a limited menu after 10pm; dinner reservations suggested; 717?233-3332; arepacity.com

Published in Phantom Diner

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