It's still unclear whether Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez closed his country's consulate in Miami or whether developer Tibor Hollo simply evicted Venezuelan diplomats from 1101 Brickell Ave. Either way, there's been an influx of Venezuelan restaurants to the Brickell area, and that's a good thing.
For a long time, at least for this gringo, arepas were those outlandish yellow disks found in the supermarket's ethnic aisle shrink-wrapped and stuffed with some kind of processed white cheese. The arepas at Budare Bistro, which sits in the shadows of Brickell high-rises along SW Third Avenue, are some of the best -- and the cheapest -- in the area.
I learned all about a proper arepa when I moved to Miami, but still there are drastic differences even among so-called authentic arepas. For starters, I learned that in Venezuelan cooking, which is what Budare offers, the yellow cornmeal cake I long thought was the only option is in fact a cachapa. They usually come stuffed with cheese or some kind of sweet filling. Meanwhile, arepas are made from white cornmeal, grilled, split open like you would a pita, and filled with chicken, cheese, pork, or beef.
The most attractive aspects of an arepa are the low cost, portability, and ability to contain a variety of delicious fillings. La Moon, the Colombian restaurant on SW Eighth Street, has long offered arepas as an optional "bun" for its chicken and beef burgers. El Arepazo 2, a longtime Venezuelan favorite in Little Caracas, AKA Doral, recently opened in Brickell, but for me, it didn't quite hit the spot.
At Budare, an arepa ($6.95) comes with a choice of chicken or beef, pico de gallo, and shredded queso llanero. Chicken is grilled and chopped, and the arepa seems to be brushed with cilantro mayonnaise. The menu also lists a variety of Venezuelan specialties, including mini tequeños, sticks of bread filled with cheese, chocolate, or guava jelly; mandocas, fried cornmeal rings; and cachapas or cachapitas, offered with queso de mano and queso guayanes.
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Budare's only downfall is its early closing time of 11 p.m. That's a shame, because it seems like cheese- or chocolate-stuffed tequeños are exactly the sort of thing people would buy at 3 a.m. on a Saturday.
For more, follow Zach on Twitter @ZachIsWeird.