Not the Same Old Sammie: Arepera in West Palm

Categories: First Bites
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If you are or have ever been a cubicle slave, you know a good, cheap lunch that isn't one more ham-and-cheese or tuna sandwich can bring a tiny speck of light into the daily grind of pounding big rocks into little rocks for The Man. 

Of course, you don't have to be a cubicle slave or desk drone to appreciate the arepas at Richard Klein's new Arepera on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, though the folks who live and work in the general vicinity are obvious targets of the modest little eatery on the ground floor of the Via Jardin building. 

Arepas, if you don't know, are the national sandwich of Venezuela, small, chewy rounds of corn-flour dough that are sliced in half and filled with just about anything you want. They're also the focus of the short menu at Arepera (like, duh), though you can also get a salad and a handful of sides and desserts.

Being in the area and not in the mood for a ham-and-cheese or tuna sammie, I stopped into Arepera and ordered a few things for lunch. It's a simple counter operation, sharing space with a Chinese fast food space and another one still to be leased. But it shares a cute little eating area with tile floor, peaked ceiling and tall wooden booths facing big plate-glass windows that look out onto a charming courtyard, complete with burbling fountain. 

Prices here are definitely cheap. Arepas run from $4.50 to $5.50, the salad is $2.95, desserts are $2; the most expensive dish on the menu--a platter of shredded beef, black beans, rice, plantains, and cheese--is eight bucks. 

For fast food, this is pretty good stuff. The all-in-one arepa comes with shredded beef (a bit dry but plentiful), black beans, rounds of fried plantain, and some mozzarella-like shredded cheese. On its own it's rather bland but add either of two pungent sauces--one a tangy cilantro, the other a modestly incendiary chili--and it really comes to life. I liked the chicken arepa better; fat chunks of tender marinated and grilled chicken with caramelized onion and slathered with chili sauce is a pleasant kick to the taste buds. It should be noted that the arepas are rather small, though, so if you've got much of an appetite you can probably snarf up one-and-a-half or two. 

Or maybe order an arepa and a salad, a big plastic container of crispy romaine, moderately ripe tomatoes, very ripe avocado, and hearts of palm that tasted canned and could easily be eliminated. Skip the odd, grainy tahini dressing and go for the lively vinaigrette, then finish up with alfajores, silver dollar-sized shortbread cookies sandwiching luscious dulce de leche, made in-house.  

Affordable, a little different, a sweet little place, Arepera is worth a look.
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