I once spent a summer in Colombia, South America, when I was growing up and one of the things I loved was that we would have arepas at each of our meals. Arepas are corn meal-based rolls or fried bread (depending on how they are made), that are a constant presence for Colombians and Venezuelans. I have always been on the look out to have a good arepa since then and on occasion there have been places in the Triangle that have served them, but those places are few and far between.
Imagine my delight when, while traveling down Lake Boone Trail the other day, I saw a sign for Guasaca Arepa and Salsa Grill! Guasaca is owned and managed by three Venezuelan-native partners: Orlando Escobar, Heli Mandez and chef Jose Alvarez . They had this great idea to use arepas much like you would a flat bread, and have a “build your own sandwich” type of concept. You start with the arepa, then tell the order taker what ingredients you want in your arepa and by the time you get to the cashier, your order is ready to go!
When you enter this bright and cheerful establishment, you will hear Latin music playing in the background. If I wasn’t in line, I may have started to dance! The workers are friendly and helpful, especially since most people do not know what arepas are. They do also have bowls or salads to choose from if you do not want an arepa, but, I’m telling you, you are missing out if you skip the arepa!
First, pick a protein (or, as in my case, with vegetables only). The choices include chicken, steak, braised pork, avocado chicken, braised tilapia or shredded beef. Then, add veggies, which include a cole slaw, pico de gallo, black beans, plantains, black eye peas, white cheese, and/or caramelized onions and then add a sauce, such as red sauce, wine vinegar sauce, guasaca sauce, cilantro sauce, sour cream or mustard sauce.
Almost everything is made in house, so it is fresh and good for you. Vegans and vegetarians can also be happy because they have vegetarian options, though the proteins, I’m sure, are excellent. And, if you are trying to eat gluten free, the arepas are made from corn, not wheat.
I tried the vegetarian special, which had the black beans, pico de gallo, plantains, cole slaw, caramelized onions and guasaca sauce. The cole slaw added a little sour note and the pico de gallo added some spice to the black beans and onions. The arepa was served wrapped in paper so you can just pick it up and eat it, but eat it over a plate so you don’t drop anything. It was a soul-satisfying meal. I added a side of some plantains, which were sweet but not too sweet. I was very happy to have a such a great lunch and it was under $6! I would certainly come here again! In fact, the only complaint I would have would be that it was a bit hard to find parking, but that is not the fault of the restaurant.
Guasaca is located at 4025 Lake Boone Trail in Raleigh and is open from Monday – Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter to find out more about any specials or what is happening at the restaurant.