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Restaurants

Arepa Cafe

Posted by Melissa Yu / Reviewed on December 28, 2009 / review policy

Arepa CafeArepa Cafe has a steady stream of customers at the lunch hour. The narrow cafe is well-lit, and bright colours and beautiful, exposed brick walls line the room's length. A chalkboard menu reveals a variety of Venezuelan dishes: arepas (a grilled flatbread made from cornmeal, stuffed with an assortment of fillings), plus an array of hot entrées and a variety of beverages and desserts. There's also a fresh juice bar (orange, mango, cantaloupe and pineapple), and hot drinks.

After some difficult decisions, my friend Liz and I find a spot by the window facing Queen West to settle into lunch.

Our meals don't take long to get the table, and with elbows out, I happily dig into the Carne Mechada arepa ($6.50). It is stuffed with shredded pieces of tender flank steak, that's been simmered in a delicious tomato sauce spiced with cumin, flecked with bits of red pepper and garlic. The grilled arepa shell is buttery and its flavour reminiscent of popcorn. Pods of orange hot sauce and green guasacaca sauce are scattered in metal bowls all over the table to accompany our meal The whole process is messy and satisfying, and I'm glad I've come to lunch with a friend and not a hot date; by the end of it, there are a dozen used napkins all over the table and I'm sure there's food in my teeth.

Arepa CafeLiz digs into the Adobo Roasted Pork arepa ($6.50), which contains morsels of tender sliced pork, topped generously with sauce spiced with anatto and caramelized onions. A fresh and peppy guacamole is served alongside the fine carrot, chayote and cabbage slaw. Liz is a generous friend, and I finish the last bites of my own arepa with a glob of her guac.

arepa cafeI couldn't resist also ordering the side watercress salad ($3.00), which is neat on a plate: baby watercress, chunks of ripe avocado, thin slices of tomato, and pickled onion on top. The lemony vinaigrette is refreshing and I finish the salad in less than four bites.

arepa cafeDessert is a sweet finish - my favourite cookies, alfajores. They feature a generous dollop of dulce de leche wedged between two sandy, sugary biscuits, dusted with icing sugar. Three cookies ($4.00) go down easy with a glass of delicious, ice-cold raw brown sugar cane lemonade ($1.75). Until now, Jumbo Empanadas has been my alfajores-supplier of choice, but Arepa steps up to the plate and certainly delivers a fine biscuit.

arepa cafeA week later on a second visit to Arepa at prime lunch hour, every table in the place is full. I try an appetizer of tequeños ($4.00): buttery pastry shells stuffed with cheese, and served with guacamole. For my main, I try the Reina Pepiada arepa, which is a mixture of chicken, avocado, red onion and coriander. The filling resembles a North American chicken salad, which isn't my favourite, and lacks the kick I am hoping the red onion and coriander would have provided. To my dismay, they are out of alfajores as well as quesillo, (cream caramel), so I opt for a con leche (latte) to finish ($3.75). It is served piping hot, but could use some stiffer foam on top.

arepa cafeArepa Cafe's chalkboard menu reveals their offering of twelve kinds of assorted arepas: chicken, flank steak, pork, chorizo, plus fish, octopus, cheese, beans, and avocado. There is a modest selection of vegetarian options as well: a lentil soup; grated aged cheese and black bean, and avocado and fresco cheese arepas, as well as a vegetarian version of the pepito sandwich, which is made with a Vietnamese-style baguette. I gather that highlighting their vegetarian-friendly options on the menu would make it easier to navigate.

What is just as noteworthy as the perfectly scalloped edges of Arepa's alfajores, is the great service, which is patient and kind. Questions are answered kindly and recommendations are made. It's also nice to see Eduardo Lee, co-owner, in the kitchen and on the floor himself, flipping arepas on the hot grill, clearing tables and bringing orders out.

All in all, I am pleased to see that Arepa Cafe has filled this vacant spot on Queen West, as well as the gap in Venezuelan cuisine offerings in Toronto. With growing interest and exposure to the Queen West crowd, I hope the quality of service and food will stay high with increased patronage. I look forward to my next visit to Arepa, in hopes that this time they will have alfajores-a-plenty for me to stock up on!

Arepa Cafe is open Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 am to 7 pm, on Wednesday to Saturday from 10 am to 9 pm, and on Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm. Follow them on Twitter @arepatoronto.

arepa cafe

Discussion

39 Comments

serena / December 28, 2009 at 09:24 am
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i came here to order the other day i loved the decor. i hate how they forgot my order.
Lala / December 28, 2009 at 09:40 am
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I make a habit of going twice a week since I stumbled on it. What the review didn't mention is the amazing relaxed vibe of the place. A blissful little oasis in the middle of an otherwise frenetic street. And cheap! Love it.
Bev / December 28, 2009 at 10:00 am
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Don't think I've had arepas since I visited Venezuela - pre-Chavez. I'll definitely check this place out.
Dee / December 28, 2009 at 10:39 am
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I was at Arepa Cafe last week and the portions were tiny. It was ridiculous. I don't think I'll be going back. Portion sizes look decent in the shots for this review though.
Le / December 28, 2009 at 12:04 pm
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I purchased the avocado and cheese arepa, which came to a total of about $8.50. It was quite good, but a bit expensive. They grill their arepas to perfection!
BD / December 28, 2009 at 12:22 pm
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I coul not wait to go to this place and when I did I was so happy to see the selection of food! I was not happy when they forgot my order. Also not happy when I actually realized how overpriced everything was. Although delicious (very) I will not be coming back until prices come down.
Janey Mack / December 28, 2009 at 01:48 pm
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I came into Arepa with high expectations after seeing some great reviews on other foodie sites. I immediately noticed the kind of uncomfortably-silent, dead atmosphere that you usually experience at normal restaurant off-peak times, but I was in there at lunchtime on Saturday!
It made it even more annoying when I ordered from the nice guy at the checkout, the manager was peering over his every move and cutting in trying to get me to order side salads, etc. To top it all off I witnessed a near-Basil Fawlty scene when the same manager (small guy with glasses) dude started telling the food cook off in a horrible, malicious tone (could not tell what it was as I don't speak Spanish) and the poor guy was humiliated in front of us.
Food was okay, VERY expensive for what you get (you are not full after spending $12) and quite bland. Quite frankly we just finished up and left as soon as we could to escape the bad vibes... Nice decor, pity about the atmosphere.
Joe-E replying to a comment from Janey Mack / December 30, 2009 at 09:01 am
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Thanks for the warning, Janey Mack. I have had homemade arepas made by some Colombian friends of mine. They agree that the little beady eyed manager will have to shut up, butt out, and CUT HIS PRICES IN HALF before any of us try this place.
Whatevs / December 30, 2009 at 09:06 pm
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Don’t want to add to a chorus of boos but I went today based on this review, and quite beautiful pictures. Meh. Was really quite plain. The flank steak arepa is braised and shredded which is fine, but I was kinda in the mood for grilled and just assumed that is what would be served. But very well, my bad. It was decent but I don’t think I’d ever go back for it. Also tried the adobo pork arepa. My goodness was this one bland and dry. It’s the only time I’ve ever had caramelized onions that tasted like nothing. Salt and pepper were essential on both arepas, but especially the pork. Both sandwiches got quite soggy, I’m not sure if this is normal for arepas. I didn’t care for that. Kitchen staff: a slotted spoon might be a good idea? The macadamia nut tart however is awesome. Tasted like a grown–up Twix on crack. Fabulous. I think they get their desserts brought in from some small supplier. Whoever made that tart, bravo. They were sold out of alfajores.

Service was sweet but inept. And it’s not like they were slammed when I was there. Had no issues with the arepa sizes or price, it’s in line with other sandwiches and it’s all scratch made. Just not that great. They were kind of on the small side I guess, and I did eat two, but only cuz I wanted to try these 2 arepas. And I was damn hungry.

Probably won’t be going back... maybe for the macadamia tart.
joanne / December 31, 2009 at 08:37 am
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Having eaten a couple of times at Arepa, and being very pleased with the food, service, atmosphere, and price, I ordered 'whatever you can do, vegetarian, for $200' for our office new years supper for 10 people - last night. I couldn't believe the sheer amount of food provided - three delicious varieties of arepas, in profusion, marvellous chips with avocado dip, amazing plantain with pistachio and honey... and those fabulous alfajores!!

That gentleman with the glasses was solicitous, and meticulous, and made sure we were happy with our meal: Thank you, Arepa!!

Marc / December 31, 2009 at 04:08 pm
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I have found it delicious, the staff helpful, and the food fresh and tasty. Atmosphere is convivial, and easy. I can imagine there might have been some start up difficulties with an order, but I was there on a Saturday where the folks never stopped coming, and all were served and dealt with friendliness while waiting in line for ordering. I can't see how anyone would expect lower prices for what they are getting. This is not Burger King. And personally speaking, it is really fine now that you can also get Mill street Organic. Perfect match. A nice addition to Queen W in my opinion.
Cam / January 4, 2010 at 11:27 am
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I will preface this by saying we went in late, 20 min before they closed, but still, what we got was very mixed. The Pork has no spice, I think it could have been a pork tenderloin from metro with only s&p as seasoning with no onion or sauce to be seen, quite gross actually. Chicken w. avocado was good, I think we got the kick the author was missing. I found the prices fair, 2 mill st, 2 arepas and dessert for thirty and change. I'll give it another try but it had better watch itself
Vivian / January 6, 2010 at 01:22 pm
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But the question remains... wtf does that yellow swirly type on their sign actually say?
Jeremy replying to a comment from Janey Mack / January 6, 2010 at 08:00 pm
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Went there a few weeks ago. The arepa was pretty good, but nothing special. Nothing compared to my wife's Reina Pepiadas. I also noticed that the manager was somewhat short-tempered with his staff. Can't say I was too impressed by that.
Valentina replying to a comment from Vivian / January 6, 2010 at 10:54 pm
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It says "AREPERA", typical name for a restaurant (more like a diner) that sales mostly arepas.
pete / January 8, 2010 at 09:59 pm
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I work there, the manager is not, nor has ever been short tempered with any of the staff. Just wanted to clear that up.
tim / January 10, 2010 at 11:32 am
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"the greatest ignorance is to reject something you know nothing about"
disappointed / January 16, 2010 at 08:29 pm
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I had been looking forward to trying the arepas for some time now since they opened. I ordered the carne mechada and the pork adobo to go with a chayote side salad. To my disappointment, the arepas were quite bland, as was the chayote salad. I didn't know that you have to ask for the salsas to go along side so I didn't get any to give some extra zing. Surprising that they wouldn't offer, especially for a new restaurant that should be trying to wow its customers. 20 bucks is a bit steep for what I got. Not sure that I will give it a second shot. The restaurant was virtually empty, just 2 tables full--so they didn't have to go an extra mile to offer the salsas.
tim / January 21, 2010 at 11:29 am
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i went to have arepa and the experience was a nice one, the chorizo and egg arepa is great for breakfast, very yummy with a freshly made orange juice and a creamy latte.
beautiful relaxing atmosphere, and friendly staff, nice addition to the area.
Maria / January 22, 2010 at 12:38 am
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This place has to checked out for sure. I personally recommend it, not only the food but the attention is unique. Best of wishes for this place.
Rocktop replying to a comment from tim / January 26, 2010 at 04:30 pm
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They paid you to write that, right?
Kingher replying to a comment from pete / February 3, 2010 at 08:48 am
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How much free eats did he give you?
Bobby / March 10, 2010 at 04:56 pm
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Melissa, Sorry, I have to disagree with you, this place is bland and tasteless. Arepas in NY destroy this place, I don't see it being around for very long
Rina Diaz / August 15, 2010 at 12:07 pm
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Arepa Cafe it’s a great place to eat Venezuelan Arepas, they are delicious and very tasty, probably one of the best Arepas I have ever tried being a Venezuelan. Some people complain about the portion sizes and the prices. Prices are quite reasonable for Queen St West, running a business there incurs expensive operational costs. Portion sizes are in my opinion good enough, not excessive. For those who has never had an Arepa in Venezuela, Areperas are probably the most popular place for a quick eat, but none of them are as clean, relaxing and chic as Arepa Cafe, they are actually very ordinary places. I recommend some people to travel the world before they talk about something they know nothing about.
sharon / March 3, 2011 at 10:38 pm
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Stale Rice! My God, rice is not expensive though for the first time that I been to that restaurant I received stale rice and as a couple we were both disappointed. So sad!!!
Pedro / March 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm
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i am never going there again with Sharon. I grew up on Arepas but on STALE rice!
Elizabeth / April 10, 2011 at 06:18 pm
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I walked by yesterday (Saturday afternoon) and the lineup was out the door. I had no idea what this place was, but went back today to see what all the fuss was about, and am I ever glad I did! I'm surprised to see all the negative comments here - my reina pepiada arepa was excellent. The filling was creamy and the bread was warm and perfectly grilled. In future (because I will most definitely be going back), I'd ask for a little extra coriander. With respect to price and portion size, I paid less than $10 and left full - can't ask for more than that :)
jameson / November 6, 2011 at 04:24 pm
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Went here last week, wouldn't return simply to never have to hear the horrible horrible music playing inside
Maureen replying to a comment from jameson / November 7, 2011 at 09:36 am
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Don't you just hate it when that happens? My friends and I were in a chain restaurant last week and we asked for the server to turn the blaring hip-hop music down. When she did, much to the relief of a family seated behind us, one of the servers dumped a tray on the floor and cussed at us. We got up and left. Some managers need to put a leash on servers, because the chef's work get ruined that way. I hope they fired the byatch.
gluten free gift / December 8, 2011 at 08:18 pm
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If you have celiac disease - or need to follow a gluten-free diet... you will think you have arrived in heaven.
Jordan Heidendahl / December 9, 2011 at 09:26 am
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Just discovered this place yesterday. Great atmosphere and coffee. I would say it's the best cafe in the neighborhood.
Anthony / August 21, 2012 at 02:33 pm
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I went this sunday morning. I found the called Reina Pepiada to be so salty and expensive, I have tried arepas before in NY which have been amazing with better price. How about the coffee, standard size and really expensive. You can have better quality of coffee and larger size at starbucks or another place.
Jt / September 21, 2012 at 01:14 am
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Horrible experience. My salt cod arepa leaked fishy juice all over the table through the basket it came in. I had to get a plate, then finish with cutlery as it disintegrated. My partners was ice cold deli ham and from-the-bag cold shredded cheese. Embarrassing. Never again - I lived in Miami and had my share of Colombian and Venezuelan areas, sweet and savoury. They are so much better than this place has to offer.
ange / October 3, 2012 at 11:25 pm
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I went with my husband last Saturday for dinner. The server was in a hurry she literally threw us the menus from the table she was cleaning beside us. We waited 20 minutes to make our order because They decided to help 2 customers that arrived after we were seated.... I felt invisible for a moment.....when finally we order, we got our coffee right away and 25 minutes later the food arrived and my husband's order was wrong... they offered to fix it but we were so hungry we didn't want to wait another 25 minutes.
So the experience was horrible the arepas were not cook well and for the price I expect better.
JM / December 19, 2012 at 11:09 pm
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hey ange, i had a similar experience to yours back in the summer. this place is not worth it. will never go back here
Dave / September 23, 2013 at 03:04 am
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Food wasn't all that great, especially considering the price. I didn't have any problems with service but the server seemed to have a snobby attitutde towards one of the other tables. Overall, the food is okay, but for the price you would be better off trying out some of the delicious tacos in Kensington
Lisa / November 14, 2013 at 09:30 pm
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I'm shocked at the negative comments. I just discovered this place and LOVE it! Great service. The waitress remembered me and what I'd ordered two weeks earlier. The food was delicious! I'm celiac and need gluten free food and this was perfect. Coffee was great and GF cheesecake?! Yes please!
Gordana Isailovic / December 1, 2013 at 08:40 am
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I visited this restaurant. The arepas are perfect, I was born in Venezuela and can tell you that these people have the venezuelan flavour in Toronto. Loved the place, very relax, Venezuelan style, it is what it is, venezuelan serving arepas, love it, yes a little pricey but it was good, we came all the way from Waterloo to eat arepas there. Good job guys, but keep your prices down a little, any news about Hallacas for Christmas? I will be the first in line.
Pedro / June 20, 2014 at 04:28 pm
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I cant believe these Venezolano's are actually praising this place, this isn't authentic at all and has no feeling of being back home. Folks, hit up El Gordo Ex next time instead

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