Atlanta Orders In: Time is right for Arepa Grill expansion

As the name indicates, Arepa Grill specializes in Venezuelan arepas, fried corn cakes slit and stuffed with all manner of proteins. 
Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
As the name indicates, Arepa Grill specializes in Venezuelan arepas, fried corn cakes slit and stuffed with all manner of proteins. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Second location on Buford Highway coming soon for fast-casual Venezuelan restaurant

A few weeks ago, a reader tipped me off to Arepa Grill, a Venezuelan fast-food stall inside Plaza Fiesta on Buford Highway. It took a couple of visits — and looping through the maze of shops and kiosks to locate it at the rear, near the kiddie playground — before I finally got my hands on their in-demand arepas.

On my first visit, I arrived too late on a Sunday, and they’d sold out of the fried corn cakes, slit and stuffed with all manner of protein.

“Sundays are crazy,” co-owner Claudia Cardenas later told me in her native Spanish, when we spoke on the phone.

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The Reyna Pepiada arepa from Arepa Grill is filled with shredded chicken, avocado and mayonnaise. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
The Reyna Pepiada arepa from Arepa Grill is filled with shredded chicken, avocado and mayonnaise. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The following Sunday, I beat the rush, and arrived when the doors unlocked at 10:30 a.m. I came away with four of these hot pockets: the highly recommended reyna pepiada, filled with shredded chicken, creamy avocado and mayo; the pabellon, with shredded beef, black beans, plantains and cheese; the perico, whose filling of scrambled egg whites, tomato and grilled onions makes this handheld a fine change-up in place of a breakfast biscuit; and the black vegan arepa, with black beans, sweet plantains and avocado.

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Arepa Grill offers popular Venezuela fast-food and drinks. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Arepa Grill offers popular Venezuela fast-food and drinks. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Cardenas couldn’t be happier with the positive reception for the spot that she launched in the fall of 2019 with husband Pedro. After all, the couple waited 10 years to bring Arepa Grill to fruition. They own La Norteña Restaurant, a taquería that also is inside Plaza Fiesta, and which they purchased in 2009. But, it always had been her goal to open a Venezuelan restaurant that paid homage to their native country. The catch: They didn’t think there was enough of an audience in Atlanta; it’s only been in the past four or five years that a sizable number of Venezuelans have moved to the area, Pedro said.

Arepa Grill is a counter-service restaurant that opened in Plaza Fiesta in 2019. Another location on Buford Highway will open in June. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Arepa Grill is a counter-service restaurant that opened in Plaza Fiesta in 2019. Another location on Buford Highway will open in June. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

What excites them, though, is that the clientele isn’t limited to Venezuelans hungry for a taste of home in the form of arepas, pastelitos (a round-shaped cousin to empanadas) or tequeños (fried cheese sticks made with a soft, white cheese known as queso de mano — order the ones that come with a touch of sweet guava). A diverse crowd has discovered the casual Venezuelan fare coming out of the tiny kitchen, and they’ve learned to chase it down with a chicha (a rice-based drink reminiscent of horchata, but thicker), a can of bubbly Frescolita (which tastes like red cream soda), or a bottle of the malt beverage Maltín, made with real cane sugar.

“We are thankful that we’ve been so well-received by the community,” Claudia said.

Married Arepa Grill owners Pedro and Claudia Cardenas stand on the patio of their restaurant inside Plaza Fiesta. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Married Arepa Grill owners Pedro and Claudia Cardenas stand on the patio of their restaurant inside Plaza Fiesta. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Considering the large role corn plays in Venezuelan cuisine, the Cardenas attribute some of their success to the increased interest in gluten-free eating. But, there are other reasons, like the walk-up window that enables them to open a half-hour before the mall itself, and take mid-morning orders from taxi drivers. There also are the four umbrella tables on the patio for al fresco dining, a plum feature for a restaurant during a pandemic.

Business has been so encouraging that the Cardenas are opening a second Arepa Grill location at 5302 Buford Highway, next to popular taqueria El Rey del Taco. Slated to debut in early June, the sister restaurant will have a dining room seating more than three dozen, and a menu that includes not only Venezuelan fast-food favorites, but also homestyle preparations, and a bar serving beer and wine.

Once it is up and running, weekend specials will spotlight the global influences on Venezuelan cuisine, including Italian, Spanish and Arabic.

If Sundays are a “locura” at the Plaza Fiesta location, get ready for the same sort of crazy weekends a couple of miles down the road.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Numerous Arepa Grill menu items, including a corn pancake known as a cachapa (pictured), feature queso de mano, a soft white cheese frequently used in Venezuelan cooking. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Numerous Arepa Grill menu items, including a corn pancake known as a cachapa (pictured), feature queso de mano, a soft white cheese frequently used in Venezuelan cooking. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

AREPA GRILL

Menu: fast-casual Venezuelan

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: pelua, reyna pepiada, perico and black vegan arepas; queso, carne and pollo pastelitos; tequeño de queso; cachapa queso mano; patacon; chicha. This is some fine fried food. Come for the arepas (the chicken-avocado-mayo reyna pepiada was my favorite) but stay for the tequeños, empanadas, cachapas (corn pancakes) and pastelitos. If you’re in the mood for a milkshake, get the chicha.

Price range: $2.50-$9.99

Vegetarian options: some arepas, tequeños, empanadas and cachapas.

Service options: dine-in, carryout; no delivery; order in person or via phone

Outdoor dining: small patio with four umbrella tables

Mask policy: required for all employees and anyone entering Plaza Fiesta, except when eating

Address, phone: 4166 Buford Highway, Brookhaven; 678-974-7795

Hours: 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. daily

Website: facebook.com/ArepaGrillAtlanta

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