Until recently, finding them in Milwaukee has been a challenge. Amilinda, the Spanish restaurant on East Wisconsin Avenue, has hosted arepa pop-ups, but the only true arepa restaurant is in the food court at Brookfield Square mall. This counter-service walk-up, fittingly named Arepa’s Place, is run by Yrvil and Yelena Perez Torres, who come from the city of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, where they owned a fast food restaurant called Yop Burguer.
If you’re an arepa newbie, try one of their traditional sandwiches, like the Rumbera ($7.50), which has sliced roasted pork, Venezuelan cheese and sliced avocado. That terrific white cheese is like fresh mozzarella, both in mildness and in its texture, which is stringy when it’s melted. Also great is the Reina Pepiada, which is a creamy chicken salad with avocado and shredded Gouda cheese ($7.50). Other selections combine shredded beef with black beans, sweet plantain and other ingredients. All of them come with a mild or spicy version of the house garlic-cilantro sauce, called guasacaca. For those already familiar with the delights of arepas, take the leap and create your own combination. Hint: Pork carnitas with black beans, avocado and a thick hunk of Venezuelan cheese will not disappoint.
Yelena packs the arepas generously, so you will not need a side dish, though you’ll want one. And it should be warm, crisp tostones eaten with plenty of sour cream. If you’re looking to branch out, the menu includes delicious, tender empanadas and special meals like the Yaracuy: fried pork and fried green plantains with an herb sauce and, among other things, fried sweet or savory plantains (called tajadas and tostones, respectively). All the preparation is visible, and watching them cut out the empanadas, fry slices of plantain, blend Venezuelan rice smoothies and craft the arepa sandwiches will make you hunger to taste the entire menu.
Brookfield Square, 95 N. Moorland Rd., 262-327-1845
Hours: Daily L and D
Service: Fast and Friendly
How to be an Arepa Expert in 3 Steps
CAREFULLY AND EVENLY split open the warm arepa cake with your fingers.
USING A FORK, on one half of the arepa add your toppings in the following order: meat, black beans (if desired), cheese and sliced avocado. Fill no higher than 3 inches, or you will find it challenging to bite into! Slowly pour some of the container of guasacaca (garlic-cilantro) sauce on top, and dollop with sour cream. Save a little of your sauces for dipping.
place the other half of the still-warm arepa over the toppings and gently press down. You want the cheese, sauces and sour cream to melt into each other and create a warm-cool dynamic. Let it sit a minute or so. Eat your sandwich as Venezuelans do – with your hands! Make sure you have plenty of napkins.