Restaurant News & Reviews

Food Truck Review: At Arepa Culture NC, the generously filled flatbreads are the stars

Arepa Culture NC first hit the road in 2014 and lost no time in racking up awards. The truck’s website proudly announces that it won the 2016 Fans’ Choice Award for food trucks in North Carolina and that it’s a nominee to repeat this year.

Husband-and-wife owners Pedro Rodriguez and Hannia Jara probably shouldn’t count on adding Wittiest Food Truck Name to their trophy collection, given the stiff local competition from the likes of Merry Franksters, Thai Box Zing, and Curry in a Hurry. But the name Arepa Culture NC would be a prime candidate for a Truth-in-Advertising award.

The truck sells arepas, for starters, and except for bottled water and a handful of sodas, that’s pretty much it. No bags of chips or other extraneous “sides” to flesh out the menu. Like the name says, they just sell arepas, the thick, soft cornmeal flatbreads that are a street food staple in Rodriguez’s native Venezuela.

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La Pelua, according to Pedro Rodriguez of Arepa Culture NC food truck, is a popular nickname that translates roughly to “the hairy one.” Order it, and you’ll discover that the name refers to the shaggy appearance of its filling of shredded Angus beef and shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Their arepas – scratch-made and grilled to order – are consistently first-rate, partially because the owners have chosen to concentrate on the one thing they do best.

Not that you’ll lack for variety, with a menu that typically includes nine or 10 generously filled variations on the arepa theme. And that’s where the “Culture” comes in. Most of the arepas have names inspired by the street culture and slang of Rodriguez’s native Caracas. Just in case Rodriguez (or his son Marcel, who frequently operates the truck) is too busy to tell you the stories behind these names, here’s an abridged glossary.

▪ La Pelua is a popular nickname that translates roughly to “the hairy one,” Pedro Rodriguez says. Order it, and you’ll discover that the name refers to the shaggy appearance of its filling of shredded Angus beef and shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese.

▪ La Capresa (pesto, sliced tomato and fresh mozzarella) is a friendly nod to Venezuela’s sizable Italian population, many of whom emigrated to the country after World War II.

▪ Reina Pepiada (chicken salad topped with avocado and tomato) pays homage to the Venezuelan winner of the 1955 Miss World pageant, who famously ordered avocado added to her chicken salad – and who was known by the nickname Reina Pepiada (“Queen Curvy”).

▪ La Tica (chicken sautéed with peppers and onions, topped with a blend of provolone and mozzarella) is an affectionate Hispanic term for Costa Ricans. It’s named in honor of Jara’s mother, the source of the recipe.

▪ La Sureña (“The Southerner”) lives up to the “NC” part of the truck’s name with juicy shreds of barbecue pork topped with pico de gallo.

The owners pay further tribute to their adopted state with a trio of specialty arepas tailored to local tastes. I haven’t yet tried the Meat Lovers (shredded beef, barbecue pork and sautéed chicken) or Fish Lovers (choice of grilled or smoked salmon).

But I did get a chance to try the Veggie Lovers, a medley of sautéed organic “power greens” (spinach, kale and chard), carrots, peppers and onions topped with a miniature avalanche of crumbled queso. The name isn’t particularly catchy, but in my book it’s a serious contender for another award for the collection: Best Vegetarian Food Truck Dish.

Arepa Culture NC

Prices: arepas $6-7

Website: arepaculturenc.com

Twitter: @arepaculturenc

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