A shredded chicken arepa with a side of black beans gets a pretty plate at Arepa & Salsa on Madison Avenue.
My husband ate at Arepa & Salsa for the first time the week before Christmas, and after his lunch he sent me this text: Arepa: Best restaurant in Memphis.
Now those are big words from a man who eats out regularly with me, so I pressed him on his enthusiasm. Seriously? That’s an impressive endorsement.
Later, when we were actually talking to one another, Tony wouldn’t let up. “You’ve got to try this place,” he said. “The food is really unique.”
So on Friday date night, we met two friends at the restaurant’s unpretentious location on Madison, located about midway between Trolley Stop Market and Evelyn & Olive. We parked in the Evelyn & Olive lot and slinked down the street, but found out later it’s perfectly fine to park across the street from Arepa. This is good to know since there are only three or four parking spaces in front of the restaurant.
Once inside, I was a little confused by the menu because it is Venezuelan food with unfamiliar (to me) dishes such as tostones and arepas, the restaurant’s namesake. Fortunately, menu photos provided helpful cues, as did the restaurant’s friendly server who said, “You’ve got to try the naked arepas.” And so we did.
I’m not sure why the appetizer is called naked, as the fried arepa chips are loaded with all sorts of yummy toppings, including shredded chicken, avocado, chopped tomatoes, and a cilantro-heavy dressing that our friend Stephanie described as Green Goddess, only better.
So what exactly is an arepa? They are cornmeal patties that “define Venezuelan cooking,” according to Epicurious.com. When fried and stuffed with cheese, ham, or shredded beef as in the restaurant’s cachapas, the popular street food is like a cross between grilled cheese and pancakes. When served as more traditional sandwiches stuffed with shredded meats, black beans, eggplant, avocado, tomatoes, house salsas, or white salty cheese, arepas are like fluffy stuffed pitas. Either way, they are delicious.
The menu’s tostones are equally interesting. Made with green plantains that are fried, flattened, and fried again (no wonder they are so good), tostones are oversized and crunchy chips that function quite well as substitutes for sandwich bread. They are also fun and satisfying to eat.
Affordable, simple, and unique, the food at Arepa is a tasty reminder to break culinary habits and to try new things. Plus, you get to drink Dos Equis and hang out with The Most Interesting Man in the World. How fun is that?
Arepa & Salsa, 662 Madison Ave (901-433-9980) $