The Scoop: Caracas Arepa Bar has been a beloved date spot in New York City since opening its first location in the East Village in 2003. In November 2020, that original location had to permanently close, but the Brooklyn location remains open for socially distanced business. Caracas Arepa Bar can give local couples the chance to bring Venezuelan food to their homes by ordering takeout or meal kits of their favorite tapas. Check out the online menu to get the ingredients for a memorable date night at home.
The founding story of Caracas Arepa Bar begins with a whirlwind love story nearly 20 years ago. Venezuelan natives Maribel Araujo and Aristides Barrios met at an arepas joint in Caracas, and they later got married, moved to New York City, and went into the restaurant business together.
Maribel and Aristides opened a small arepa storefront in the East Village in 2003 to bring quality Venezuelan food to the neighborhood. And people ate it up.
“We had no experience with restaurants or cooking,” Maribel told us. “It was something we did to connect to our home country and pay homage to its wonderful food.”
Nearly 20 years later, Maribel and Aristides are still in business together (though they are no longer married), and Caracas Arepa Bar has become a well-known gathering place for friends, family members, and daters. The restaurant brings people together through food, and its savory tapas are perfect for sharing with a loved one.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on small family-owned restaurants like Caracas Arepa Bar, and tough decisions have had to be made to weather the storm. In November 2020, the original Caracas Arepa Bar location in East Village permanently closed its doors. The Williamsburg location in Brooklyn remains open for outdoor dining and takeout.
Couples can order an arepas-at-home kit or make a reservation for an outdoor table to show support for Caracas Arepa Bar and spice up their date nights with traditional South American dishes.
Authentic Venezuelan Food With Vegan & Vegetarian Options
One glance at the Caracas Arepa Bar menu is all it takes to get a person’s mouth watering. It has a diverse smattering of proteins and veggies to give people from all walks of life something to be excited about. Plus, the arepas themselves are gluten-free because they are made with dried maize kernels called hominy.
Maribel is a vegan, so she is sensitive to the dietary requirements of different customers. She and her culinary team have worked hard to ensure the Caracas menu has a good variety that can satisfy people of all tastes.
“Everyone can find something here,” she said. “Perhaps because we’re immigrants, it was important to us to create a place that is super inclusive and family-friendly.”
The golden arepas are made fresh every day and are the main attraction at the restaurant. Customers can choose from a variety of fillings — beans, pork, chicken, chorizo, cheese, and more — and order small plates of coquetas, tequeños, or fried green plantains to go with it.
Plus, Caracas has a robust drinks menu that includes beer, wine, and cocktails. Couples can order sangria or a hot toddy to lift their spirits on a date night. The pitchers of margaritas and mojitos are particularly popular among large parties celebrating an occasion.
Caracas Arepa Bar has a full cocktail bar called Roneria Caracas (aka Rum Bar) where it has over 40 rums available. Its rum selection includes bottles sourced from Central America and the Caribbean Islands. The Rum Bar offers a lot of delicious options for couples to explore on happy hours night after night.
Many local New Yorkers have chosen Caracas as the setting for their first date because it allows them to be casual and get to know someone over shared plates of indulgent Venezuelan food. “Our food is meant to be eaten and shared together,” Maribel said. “You have to eat with your hands, and you really get to know someone through that experience.”
Whether you’re there for a lunch date or a midnight snack, you can’t help but appreciate the diverse menu and personable service that has made Caracas stand out.
How a New York Landmark Adapts to the New Normal
Dining at Caracas Arepa Bar looks a lot different in 2020 than it has in previous years. The outdoor patio has become the central focus for those dining in person, and the takeout service has really ramped up. The kitchen staff have developed new meal kits and to-go cocktail options that allow couples and families to bring the arepa dining experience to their homes.
Couples can order online to get a hot meal ready for pickup or delivery. The Arepas at Home kit can be a fun activity for an at-home date night. Couples can put together their own arepas using up to four of their favorite Caracas fillings.
“The covered, heated back patio has ample space to accommodate social distancing,” said Alexander B. in a Yelp review. “Caracas is a haven of hospitality and warmth in the neighborhood.”
Caracas Arepa Bar has also launched an online shop where its fans can get T-shirts that celebrate the restaurant’s unique flavor. The merchandise includes an End of an Era shirt that commemorates the original Caracas in East Village. All proceeds from the sales of this shirt go toward the staff of the East Village restaurant.
Additionally, the Caracas team is working on a way to ship its famous homemade sauce nationwide. The recipe for this spicy and sweet sauce is a trade secret that many have tried and failed to recreate. Making the sauce available to people across the country could be a game changer for the small, local restaurant by opening new streams of revenue.
Caracas Arepa Bar has had to reinvent itself in many ways to stay in business during the COVID-19 pandemic. From adopting online ordering to developing a merchandise line, the team has shown creativity in making its brand reach more people and continuing to spread joy in trying times.
“Right now we’re trying to hold on for winter and hope that spring brings better times,” Maribel said. “We can survive until then.”
In the summer of 2021, Maribel said she hopes to be able to reopen the seasonal Rockaway Beach location that has been a Queens tradition since 2011. This location typically opens from mid-May through September.
A Cozy Spot to Share Small Plates & Make Great Memories
For over 17 years now, Caracas Arepa Bar has been a community hub where people can grab a casual bite to eat or celebrate milestones in their lives. It has even been the venue for first dates and anniversary dinners, and many locals have reached out to the team in 2020 to share their memories at Caracas.
“It’s been so amazing to hear from so many people,” Maribel told us. “People have dropped off gifts and letters, they’ve sent messages and emails saying this is where I met my wife or husband. It’s so special.”
A New Yorker named Charlie B. said in a Yelp review that he has been dining out at Caracas for five years and would give the restaurant one million stars. “I’ve eaten here more often than anywhere else in Manhattan,” he said. “Everyone who visits me gets taken here and loves it. My first date with the boy was here. If I don’t go at least once a month, I get withdrawal symptoms.”
Jo J. said she’s been a regular at the East End restaurant from the beginning and couldn’t imagine life in New York City without it. “It’s by far the best arepas I’ve had in the city,” she said. “In fact, it might be my favorite restaurant, period.”
Ric F. gushed on Facebook that Caracas is his favorite place to eat. “To call this ‘comfort food’ isn’t even close,” he said. “This is almost spiritual food!”
Anna B. came to Caracas on a special date night on a Saturday in 2014, and she had good things to say about the service, food, and overall atmosphere. “Couldn’t have picked a more wonderful, lively, and delicious place for dinner,” she said. “And huge bonus — if you’re allergic to gluten like my husband, this place is your playground! He could basically eat anything on the menu.”
“You ain’t gonna find none of those fluffy yellow street-fair arepas up in here,” raved Jay G. on Yelp. He said he went to the Brooklyn location for his six-month anniversary and was impressed from appetizer to dessert. “The food is magnificent….Need that secret recipe bottled up like yesterday. The service is lightning quick. The experience is amazing.”
Caracas Arepa Bar Holds a Special Place in People’s Hearts
Caracas Arepa Bar was borne out of love, and it continues to thrive on love. Whether it’s serving daters in person or through takeout orders, the Venezuelan restaurant provides savory and authentic dishes that get people talking, laughing, and hankering for seconds.
Despite the hard times, Caracas has seen an outpouring of support from New Yorkers who have treasured memories at the arepa joint and want to keep its doors open for years to come.
“It’s been humbling to hear all the stories from people who say Caracas was the place they came to when they were on a first date or celebrating an occasion or getting over a breakup,” Maribel said. “We feel very accomplished because we created such a special place for people.”